By Maya Rao and Eric Roper
In describing her mayoral campaign as a choice between returning to a troubled past or moving toward a brighter future, Council Member Betsy Hodges took a surprising dig at today’s DFL convention at rival Jackie Cherryhomes, who was City Council president in the 1990s.
“Will we go back to the 90s, when elected officials thought our city had so little to offer that people and businesses would only come here with a subsidy?” Hodges asked. “No, we will not. Because I have to tell you, the first time I ever stepped foot in City Hall was 1998, 1999, somewhere in there. I was there with Progressive Minnesota to protest the big public development deal that became Block E. It was infuriating. Why were we acting like Minneapolis had to beg? Why were we acting like big corporate subsidies would save our city?”
Cherryhomes, who will speak shortly at the convention, had advanced the redevelopment of Block E.
Hodges continued: “Block E did not save us. Business owners who has been here for generations and weathered the storm saved us. Latino and East African immigrants investing on Lake Street saved us. Electing city leaders who got our financial house in order saved us. And yes, leaving the false choices of 90s behind and truly entering the 21st Century saved us.”
UPDATE: Cherryhomes and former mayor Sharon Sayles Belton both appeared to respond to Hodges' comments during their address to delegates.
"I want to tell you with no embarrassment whatsoever that the investments of the past have laid the foundation for our future," Sayles Belton said.
Cherryhomes noted that during her tenure, they created the neighborhood revitalization program, the police civilian review authority and built a “vibrant, thriving downtown.”
“Much of what we did was excellent, was very very good. And I am very proud of it,” Cherryhomes said. “Sure we made some mistakes, everyone makes some mistakes. But I have chosen to learn from those mistakes and to do better the next time.”
Hodges also used her struggles with drinking and smoking as a metaphor for how she would make solid decisions when facing a crossroads.
“I have faced one of my own,” she said.
“Twenty-four years ago, I was 19 years old, sitting alone in my room with a bottle of bourbon and a pack of cigarettes, the same as I had been doing for days and for weeks and for months,” Hodges said. “And I had a choice: I could keep repeating my miserable past or I could put the bottle down, face my demons, and head into a brighter future. I’m proud to say that for 24 years I have chosen a bright future every day.”
Teach for America suffered its second setback in three weeks at the state level when the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted Friday to deny a group license variance for the teacher trainee organization it has granted for the past four years.
The board’s 8-2 vote means that individual districts and principals will need to fill out applications for a variance from the normal requirement that a teacher be licensed. The board consists mostly of teachers and other educators appointed by the governor..
The decision raises the possibility that some Teacher For America corps members will not have a variance they need to be before students by the first day of class, said Crystal Brakke, Teach for America’s Twin Cities director. She called the decision “disheartening.”
But her predecessor, Daniel Sellars, went further. “It’s unconscionable that many Board of Teaching members allowed politics and their allegiances to the teacher’s union to keep highly effective teachers from teaching in high-needs communities,” said Sellers, now the executive director of The Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now.
“We’re going to facilitate this as best we can,” said Rose Hermodson, an assistant commissioner of education.
The group already has 72 corps members teaching in the metro area, and hopes to add 43 more this fall. Thirty one already have been offered jobs. Most any are with the Minneapolis district or charter schools. Some of those charter schools start classes well before Labor Day.
The group sustained another blow last month when Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a $1.5 million biennial appropriation that would have allowed Teach For America to add 25 more members.
The variance is granted to allow the corps members to teach while working toward licensure at Hamline University, which Brakke said most achieve before the end of their two-year stint. Some board members questioned granting a group variance without independent review of the variance candidates.
Corps members are paid the same rate as other beginning teachers, and given five weeks of intensive summer training before they start in classes.
If all went according to plan, former Washburn Principal Carol Markham-Cousins was going to go out with the senior graduating class at the school's commencement earlier this month.
But plans changed somewhere between the district's confirmation that Markham-Cousins was to be on the stage and have a speaking role in the sendoff of nearly 200 seniors and the actual event.
MPLS offered Markham-Cousins a chance to explain, but she declined. According to the district, she informed superiors on the afternoon of the ceremony that she'd decided not to participate. She did take a chance to address seniors during the rehearsal for the ceremony.
Parent Margaret Richarson said she'd heard soem students were planning to make a show of protest toward Markham-Cousins to express their displeasure for her role in removing popular athletic director Dan Pratt out of that role. The district removed her after Pratt's shift to a full time phy ed teacher for next year was protested by some students, but others spoke up in her support.
Richardson said she applauded the decision of Markhame-Cousins to keep the focus of graduation on students.
School’s out for summer, but work is going on behind the scenes toward making one of Minneapolis’ most-squeezed schools less crowded for students and their teachers.
Seward Montessori School was built for fewer than 700 but holds almost 900 K-8 students and ranks close to the worst in the district for its lack of space.
“The crowding at our school is the least-conducive learning environment I’ve seen in the 23 years I’ve been a teacher in the district,” said Robert Reed.
He and three others who teach English to immigrant students share office space at one end of a classroom, behind a bank of file cabinets and a curtain. Reed often teaches groups of students in another subdivided classroom that he shares with a school psychologist, inhibiting students from the vigorous out-loud pronounciation that builds their skill.
After meeting with a parent-staff group, district planners are investigating options and hope to have a recommendation later this year.
One possibility is an addition to accommodate the current four classes per grade, as parents prefer. There are less palatable options, too. One is moving to a larger school. Or the school could cut back to three classes per grade, meaning fewer Montessori slots. Another would be to split the program, making Seward a kindergarten-fifth grade school and housing middle school Montessori elsewhere. A move or a split school would affect other schools.
The Montessori program came to Seward in 1991 after it outgrew the Northrop building, where it went only through fifth grade. The move and a 1994 addition to Seward allowed it to add middle grades. The school started at three classes per grade but a fourth class per grade was phased in starting in 2003.
It isn’t difficult to see the overcrowding because it spills into hallways. The one serving fourth- and fifth-graders typically has several groups of students working in groups on the collaborative projects that are a Montessori hallmark. Aide Emily Martin is at a hall table with anywhere from two to five students. Another table holds a couple of geraniums. A large table for robotics activities is chained to the wall because it once fell on a student; there’s no other place for it.
Two specialists are tucked into makeshift triangular offices shoehorned into opposite corners of the hallway. When a class comes through, the hallway is impassible as students weave their way around these obstacles.
“I lived in New York City and I had 600 square feet and I had a roommate,” explained Becky Tabor, who teaches English to up to five immigrant students at a time in a tiny office. “You learn how to live in smaller spaces.”
But parents are trying to get the crowding at Seward on the district’s radar. Their long-term goal is constructing more classrooms, but that could take three to five years. Shorter-term, they’re hoping to cap enrollment at closer to the building’s capacity while studying the feasibility of expansion with the district.
They’re starting to contact school board members on their space issues but some need little education. Board member Hussein Samatar’s children attend Seward, and those of Carla Bates did so. The son of another board member, Richard Mammen, works there.
The Montessori program requires specially ordered materials, and they’re stored everywhere, in copying rooms, other niches, even principal Tammy Goetz’s office.
The school runs six lunch shifts a day. Students complained last year to Supt. Bernadeia Johnson that they lacked time to finish lunch, much less get recess, so adjustments were made. Still, the first lunch starts at 9:50 a.m. and there are more than twice as many middle-schoolers, who lunch together for scheduling reasons, as there are seats. Music students wait for janitors to clean up after the last lunch before they can set up, leaving a truncated rehearsal period before they pack up to for their buses.
There are other effects. “My son says he gets a headache from the noise levels,” said Pam Berry, a parent who headed the site council’s building committee. So does Reed, who sometimes brings headphones from home.
Goetz said the goal is simple. “We’re asking for a conducive learning environment for all of our students,” she said. “Learning in the hallway is not conducive.”
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