Last year, Thomas Alva Edison Senior High School in northeast Minneapolis went through a major change when every teacher in the school was fired and had to reapply. Teachers and students feared the change and it made them very angry and upset.
Edison underwent a “fresh start” last year because its students did not test well enough for five years on state assessment tests like the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test, or MCA test.
Before the district came to a point of just closing the school they “restructured” or “fresh started” the school.
“I think at one point in time the (school) board, the rumor was that they were looking at closing schools and the district really didn’t want to close schools … they wanted to give Edison a chance to not hit rock bottom,” Principal Carla Steinbach said.
Steinbach said there are many challenges when “fresh starting” a school, like starting over from scratch and building relationships with students, their families and teachers.
But the biggest challenge so far has been trying to improve test scores.
“What I’m hearing from teachers is that (for) the students, it hasn’t sunk in that the ninth graders have to pass the writing test, the tenth graders need to pass the reading test and the eleventh graders need to pass the math test,” Steinbach said.
“If the kids don’t take them seriously, it’s not going to show … progress, and that really concerns me,” she said.
Besides firing all teachers and asking them to reapply – 50 percent of Edison’s teachers are new this year, according to the Minneapolis school district – students are expected to follow stricter rules put in place last year and students say school work is more challenging.
This fresh start at Edison has been controversial.
“The fresh start is not all that good. Classes are too short, plus students are always disruptive, which makes the classes even shorter,” sophomore Poua Zor said.
The number of class periods during Edison’s school day changed this year. Edison switched from a block schedule of students taking four or five 80-minute classes to students taking seven 45-minute classes.
Brittany Neiderhauser, a senior, said disruptive students are making classes even shorter because teachers focus on the students to try and get them to settle down. With only 45 minutes, Neiderhauser said she feels like it cuts into her learning time.
Steinbach said she was disappointed to hear that students are still disrupting classes this year.
“I think it can be fixed. I don’t think that just the principal, or the teacher, or the security staff, can fix it. It’s gotta come from the students,” she said.
“There are students who are fed up with kids misbehaving,” Steinbach said, but she needs those students to stand up to disruptive students.
Both teachers and students find the new schedule challenging. Students say they are assigned too much homework, and teachers say there’s not enough time to get their lessons done.
John Calhoun, an AP English teacher, said that 45-minute classes doesn’t have enough time for good discussions.
Zor said not all has been bad about the new seven-period day. Last year, when students’ class schedules didn’t match the periods that required classes were offered, students were put into elective classes that they did not need, she said.
Tieshka Banks, a sophomore, said teachers challenge students more. And junior Brittany Jackson said teachers explain more about what they are teaching.
Students also now receive weekly grade reports on Mondays. Last year, students didn’t know if they were failing until mid-quarter, although Mariah Lenon, a senior, said that grade reports had not been coming out every Monday.
After that issue was brought to Principal Steinbach’s attention, the grade reports started coming out regularly the following week.
Lenon said the academic changes at Edison are causing students to care more about developing their knowledge and preparing for college. Students care about preparing for the ACT now, she said.
Students disagree with some of the stricter rules put in place last year, such as hall sweeps. Hall monitors – not students, but adults hired specifically to be a hall monitor – check students constantly in the hall, classrooms and even the lunch line to make sure students are following the new rules.
The new rules include detentions for: being late to class or school; failing to wear your ID; not being prepared for class; getting caught with a cell phone; being in the halls after the bell rings; and listening to mp3 players in school.
If students receive five detentions, they are suspended for a day. If students get ten detentions, the school sets up a mediation – called a red warning by students – with the student, family and teachers. If a student continues to get detentions, they can be expelled.
Junior Brittany Jackson said she hates the hat and coat sweep, a new policy that requires students to take off their hats and coats as soon as the enter the school, even if that means the arctic air of the Minnesota winter is blasting in behind them as students file into school.
“There’s not enough freedom like there was last year … students can’t even walk in the school without the bother of teachers telling them to hurry their hats (and coat) off,” she said.