Schools Notebook: Large turnout for hearing on union contracts

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February 13, 2013
By: Dylan Thomas
Supporters stood behind Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Lynn Nordgren as she addressed the School Board during a public hearing on the district's union contracts.
Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
The Feb. 12 public hearing highlighted divisions on teacher seniority and the role of Teach for America

A Feb. 12 public hearing on Minneapolis Public School’s union contracts packed the School Board chambers inside district headquarters at 1250 W. Broadway Ave. and relit a smoldering debate over teacher seniority rules.

Latecomers were settling into overflow seating as Mayor R.T. Rybak opened the public comment period by outlining three goals for a new teachers contract that he said were essential for closing the achievement gap. Rybak called for: longer school days coupled with increased community support for out-of-school activities; more “flexibility” in the rules that privilege senior teachers in placement and layoffs; and an initiative to recruit and retain a more diverse pool of teachers.

Although Rybak left the podium to warm applause, his second goal put him at odds with many of the teachers and union supporters who spoke later in the meeting. Their proposed contract reforms focused on cutting the number of standardized tests students take and improving classroom conditions with smaller class sizes.

Union President Lynn Nordgren echoed Rybak’s call for a more diversity among teachers, but pushed back on his second point. There has been “much exaggeration about seniority and the impact on our system,” Nordgren argued.

Like Nordgren, many speakers emphasized the need for experienced teachers in schools. Bryn Mawr Community School parent Jenny Warner called for smaller class sizes and more investment in early childhood education, then added: “Please do not believe by getting rid of seniority we will somehow magically shrink the achievement gap.”

The seniority debate shifted into pointed criticism of the district’s involvement in the Teach for America program, which places college graduates in urban schools after accelerated teacher training. The program has a small presence in the district, and recently elected School Board Member Josh Reimnitz is an alumnus.

Reimnitz’s opponent in the race for his District 4 seat, Patty Wycoff, said Teach for America places young people with little education training in the high-poverty, high-needs classrooms that would most benefit from experienced teachers. Wycoff said it appeared the district didn’t value experience.

“The teachers are our greatest asset,” she said. 

Six Minneapolis teachers up for Teacher of the Year

Six Minneapolis Public Schools teachers are among the 135 nominees up for 2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

On the list released Feb. 7 by Education Minnesota were two Burroughs Community School teachers — first-grade teacher Joyce Lasser and third-grade teacher Daniel Kilibarda — as well as Edison High School math teacher Sarah Gregg, Lucy Craft Laney School first-grade teacher Amy Lynn Sinness, Marcy Open School first- and second-grade teacher Nicole Kuhse and Kenny Community School special education teacher Stacy Moreno, an instructor in the school’s autism program.

Any public or private school pre-K–12 instructor with a Minnesota teaching license may be nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. A 25-member selection committee made up of community, business and education leaders will winnow the list of nominees down to a group of semifinalists and then finalists before naming a winner in May.

Only Shakopee Public Schools, with nine nominees, had more teachers up for the 49th-annual Minnesota Teacher of the Year award than Minneapolis. St. Paul Public Schools had five teachers nominated for the award.

The full list of nominees is available at educationminnesota.org

Deadline arrives for school placement requests

Schools request cards for new Minneapolis Public Schools students or current students requesting placement in a different school are due Feb. 19.

Parents should submit request cards if their child is in pre-kindergarten or will be entering kindergarten this fall. Parents also should submit a request card to make a school change for their student or to request an out-of-pathway school, or if their child is new to the district.

The district follows a student placement protocol in assigning students to schools. To review the protocol or complete a request card go to schoolrequest.mpls.k12.mn.us/request_a_school

No diploma? MPS wants you back

Minneapolis Public Schools wants to help former students who attended city schools between 2000 and 2012 but didn’t graduate earn their diplomas.

The district’s We Want You Back campaign, a partnership with the Minneapolis Youth Collaborating Board, aims to help dropouts complete their high school education. For those younger former students who only need to complete their GRAD test to earn a diploma, We Want You Back offers a series of preparatory classes in math, reading and writing.

The next round of GRAD testing dates are March 5–13. To register for a preparatory classes ahead of the tests, call the district’s Area Learning Center office at 668-1200 or go to alc.mpls.k12.mn.us/wwyb.

We Want You Back can also help former students over age 21 assemble the records required to earn a GED or Adult Diploma. 

The pioneering women behind the school names

In honor of Black History Month in February, Minneapolis Public Schools released a video on three pioneering African American women who’ve had district schools named in their honor.

The video recounts some key points in the lives of Georgia teacher Lucy Craft Laney, founder of Florida’s Bethune-Cookman University Mary McLeod Bethune and Minneapolis civil rights activist Nellie Stone Johnson, who was the city’s first black elected official, joining the Minneapolis Library Board in 1954.

To view the video, go to bit.ly/VJHtDC.