Minneapolis teachers raise questions about new contract

Provisions for a Community Partnership Schools and an expedited termination process raise questions for some teachers preparing to vote on a new Minneapolis Public School contract. After eight months of negotiation, district and teachers union representatives agreed on a new contract, which was presented to Minneapolis teachers on March 10. Teachers have a week to review the contract details before voting begins on March 17.Minneapolis teacher Jim Thomas said a one-week turnaround is not enough time to adequately review the contract before voting on it. While Thomas acknowledged that this short time frame is not new, he is frustrated that the first union-held information session about the contract will be held on March 17, the same day voting begins.A Special Education teacher with twenty-five years of experience, Thomas says he has had informal discussions with fellow teachers this week, and that he would like to see more healthy debate among them before they sign off on the contract. For Thomas, there are several aspects of the contract that need to be more clearly explained and discussed before members cast their votes.Community Partnership SchoolsThe contract provides for a new “Community Partnership Schools” (CPS) initiative, as part of Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s “Shift” proposal for schools with more “autonomy”  and more “accountability.”  The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that accompanies the partnership school provision states that these schools will be able to “take advantage of flexibilities” from district policies and procedures, and the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, in order to “achieve results” for their students. More on the contract The MPS contract is complicated, and news reports vary somewhat in their descriptions and discussions. Continue Reading

Montessori, Open School teachers question Minneapolis Focused Instruction

Is Focused Instruction “simply good teaching and learning,” as the Minneapolis Public Schools’ website asserts, or is it a problematic mandate, especially for magnet school teachers? Two teachers at Armatage Montessori School and Barton Open School describe conflicts between Focused Instruction and their practice as teachers as part of our continuing Focus on Teaching series.

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Minneapolis North High grads want Summatech back

“They drown-proofed us repeatedly.”For Minneapolis North High School graduate Dr. Ronda Chakolis, learning how not to drown in deep water, literally, was an important part of the North High magnet program, called Summatech, that she attended. Chakolis remembers being taken to the pool at nearby Franklin Middle School and getting tipped over in a canoe, in an exercise designed to teach students to survive a potential drowning.In a less literal sense, Chakolis remembers her whole high school experience in the Summatech program as being about “drown-proofing.” Summatech, which was prominent at North High in the 1980s and ‘90s, was built around a hands-on math, science, and technology curriculum. For Chakolis, who was always interested in these subjects, attending Summatech also meant learning not to drown by being immersed in the real-world coursework of scientists and academics, and learning how to succeed.Dr. Rhonda Chakolis Today, Chakolis is a pharmacist in Minneapolis, and she is part of a group of Summatech graduates who would like to see the program restored to North High, as part of the school district’s Five-Year Enrollment Plan. For Chakolis, one key aspect of Summatech was the way the teachers, especially the three African American women in the program who were science teachers, taught science-based protocols to their students. For example, Chakolis says she was taught dissection, how to properly dispose of materials, and how to use chemical equations, which are the kind of practical skills and knowledge she still uses today in her work.  Peter Jirak Her fellow North High graduate, Peter Jirak, also vividly remembers his time in the Summatech program. Continue Reading

Southwest Minneapolis parents raise questions about Washburn expansion, overcrowded classrooms and ‘little jewel box’ schools

Sore subjects abounded at a November 20 “listening session” at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. Beginning with an apology letter from school board member Carla Bates, the meeting addressed the proposed $40 million expansion of Southwest High, as well as questions of overcrowded classrooms, school choice vs. community schools, and gifted and talented programs. The meeting, led by Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Associate Superintendent Cecillia Sadler, was held to inform the Area C community of southwest Minneapolis about the school district’s latest Five Year Enrollment Plan ideas. For related stories on Five Year Enrollment Plan, click here.The first issue emerged before the meeting started, when participants arrived at Washburn to find an unsigned letter placed on seats in the school’s auditorium. It was soon evident that the letter was from school board member Carla Bates, who was not in attendance. The letter addressed controversial remarks she had made at the November 12 school board meeting, when she said she made a “misstatement” when questioning the district’s plan to spend $40 million to add on to the over-crowded Southwest High School.At the school board meeting, Bates asked why the district would invest such money in Southwest, saying, “the most important kids we want to invest in are not even there.” This statement rippled through the Southwest community and Bates wrote the letter to “apologize for speaking so poorly,” because she believes “all of our kids are ‘the most important kids.’”What she intended to say, according to her letter, is that she believes investing heavily in adding on to Southwest is short-sighted for these main reasons: Washburn has more room for additional space, Roosevelt High School is gaining steam as a strong high school option, and her view that investing more in “high tech, individualized learning models” throughout the city makes sense.Some parents in attendance seemed to agree with Bates that adding on to Southwest was a short-term solution at best, since the school is already over-crowded, and more space is needed for the students who are there now, let alone those who are part of the expected enrollment growth in Area C.However, Area C parent Blaire Hartley was not sold on the idea that online learning options will help ease overcrowding at Southwest. Continue Reading

‘Creepy’ and ‘invasive’ school district survey revised for 2013-2014

“We all feel like a family.”“My teacher is distracted by other children.”“What adults do you live with?” (Followed by a list of options)These are examples of the questions and statements given to all Minneapolis Public Schools students, in grades K-12, last year, as part of the district’s use of the Tripod Project. The Tripod Project, which is based on Harvard Professor Ron Ferguson’s work, is a survey given to students in order to gather information about students, their teachers, and what goes on in classrooms across the district.Ferguson originally created the Tripod survey as a way to assess whether what he called the “7Cs Framework of Effective Teaching” was taking place in schools. These “7Cs” are based on what Ferguson sees as important teaching practices, such as showing “care” for students, practicing good “control” in the classroom, and delivering lessons that “captivate” students. The Tripod survey grew out of this framework, and asks students to agree with statements and answer questions, such as the ones listed above.For Minneapolis Public Schools teacher Flory Sommers, asking students how they feel about school is a good idea, but she has been critical of the approach favored by the district, through the Tripod Project. For Sommers, telling kids we “care about what they think,” and then giving them a survey that has no open-ended questions, and, in her opinion, many values-laden, leading questions and statements, is problematic.Sommers, who has been a teacher for 32 years, and has worked both at Emerson Spanish Immersion School and Barton Open School as a Spanish and language arts teacher, vividly recalled a kindergarten teacher describing what it was like to give the survey to her young students: One boy, when asked who he lived with, burst into tears, and told the teacher that his father had just moved out. Continue Reading

Northeast Minneapolis parents offer praise and questions for MPS Five-Year Enrollment Plan

The proposal to add more Early Childhood education programming to Minneapolis Public Schools sites was a hit with many parents at the October 14 Northeast Minneapolis forum on the Minneapolis Public Schools new Five-Year Enrollment Plan.Parents and community members filled the Northeast Middle School Media Center to listen to Area A Superintendent Michael Thomas explain, using a PowerPoint presentation, the district’s new five-year plan and how it would impact their neighborhoods. Following Thomas’ presentation, people split into groups consisting of one district employee and five or more attendees.Anchoring one of these small groups was North High School Senior Academy principal David Branch. Branch expressed support for the proposed new early childhood centers, one of which would be located at North High School. Bringing young children into the building would be a good fit for North, Branch said, and would give older high school students a chance to gain valuable skills, and offer their services, by reading with the younger children.The district’s efforts to bring more focus to young children brought both hope and concern for downtown Minneapolis resident Denise Holt. Holt, who does not yet have children, was at the meeting as an advocate for the growing neighborhoods of downtown Minneapolis.   Letter from Downtown School Initiative to school boardDear Minneapolis Public Schools -We are aware of the Minneapolis Public School’s Five-Year Enrollment Plan and the accompanying attendance boundaries proposals for the downtown Minneapolis area. In order to maintain neighborhood cohesion and continue to build a community in this relatively new residential area, we strongly urge the Minneapolis Public Schools to consider downtown – North Loop, Downtown East, Downtown West, Elliot Park, and Loring Park – as one community when drawing attendance boundaries. Families choosing to raise their children in downtown Minneapolis share the same culture and values; they support building a dense, vibrant and walkable community. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | How I got over: Why I went from defending the teachers’ union to pushing for education reform

I didn’t start out on the education reform side. In fact, if you had asked me about the achievement gap 10-12 years ago, I sounded a lot like the teachers’ union. Because I think personal stories are important, here’s how and why I changed. First, a brief history: I grew up in Arden Hills, MN, graduated from Mounds View Public Schools. Got my first union card in high school. (Thank you, Amalgamated Meat Cutters.) Went to college. Continue Reading

South, Southwest parents criticize Minneapolis Public Schools 5-year plan, process

Chris Rigert seemed to embody the sense of frustration and exhaustion that characterized the Minneapolis Public Schools Area C meeting on the district’s new Five-Year Enrollment Plan. Rigert, who serves on the district’s Parent Advisory Council, said it seems as though the district officials rolling out the plan are “all new” employees, and have not been around long enough to know how many new initiatives and changes parents in the district have been subjected to.Another parent, Scott Bordon, echoed this sentiment by saying that “we are where we are now” because of poor planning on the district’s part. Speaking during the meeting’s question and answer session, Bordon asked the district to concentrate on “right sizing our classes, buildings, and attendance areas” rather than spend money on new programs and buildings.About 200 parents and community members packed in to the Ramsey Middle School cafeteria in Minneapolis to listen to Cecilia Saddler, Associate Superintendent for south and southwest Minneapolis schools in Area C, explain the district’s latest initiative, which is designed to address an expected increase in student enrollment.Using a PowerPoint presentation, Sadler reviewed some of the highlights of the plan, which was introduced in a presentation to the school board on September 24. Following this, attendees participated in small group discussions and a final question and response segment.Some parents expressed support for the difficulties facing the district, in terms of fluctuating enrollment numbers and the desire to offer competitive school choices to all, but all who spoke publicly during the evening had questions or criticism about the district’s plans.Many parents in attendance were from the Hale/Field dual campus schools, and they immediately pressed the district to settle a rumor: would Hale/Field students, under this new five-year plan, be routed to Roosevelt High School, rather than Washburn? Apparently, an earlier version of the proposed Five-Year plan made reference to this as an option, causing many in the community to become alarmed at the thought of losing their pathway to Washburn. Continue Reading