MAJ Posts

March 25th, 2015

As I get around to them I’ll start denoting some posts as MAJ meaning the Martyrdom of Art Johnston.

NOTE: this addition posted on Friday, March 27th.

To say I’ve been busy the last few days is an understatement. I have written some rough drafts of MAJ posts yet to come but I’m not content to write and post anything too hastily or carelessly. My horizon is the November election. At the moment I’ve got a lot on my plate not the least of which is a major home improvement project for which I have made half my house uninhabitable.

The previous post is not finished to my satisfaction so I’m just keeping it until I get back from a weekend out of Duluth. I’m going solo. The post to follow it, tentatively titled “Mean Girls,” will follow.

My brother and I will be attending a college reunion in Mankato this weekend. I’m hopping in the car in about ten minutes. The reunion will give us a chance to place our Mother’s earthly remains besides those of our Father. Sometimes immediate concerns (like my focus on the Duluth Schools) have to take a backseat.

I’m sorry for the recent spate of mangled and incomplete posts. I’ll fix them up when I find time in a few days.

MAJ Ducks in a row

March 25th, 2015

Remorse

March 25th, 2015

Young Annie Harala asked one question of District officials at our closed meeting yesterday. Were the students subject to expulsion remorseful for their actions. I’ll only say that the response was what the person putting such a question might hope for.

It is the second time Annie Harala has asked this question in my hearing. The first was at the meeting in which she joined the majority to vote for a hearing that would preceed Art Johnston’s removal from the Duluth School Board. She asked attorney, Mary Rice, if at any time Art Johnston has expressed remorse for shoving the Superintendent for which she was virtually the sole witness. The answer did not satisfy Ms. Harala.

Of course, if Art believed that he did not shove the Superintendent he should not be expected to be remorseful.

I’m close to describing the particulars leading up to Art’s antics and they will portray a very different picture which I was unable to divulge to the rest of the Board because of the damned laws on data privacy. Some months ago I did share a more candid description of these mitigating actions with Annie in writing but my explanation obviously failed to change her mind.

Annie is the primary reason that the Board has an excuse to remove Art Johnston. Had she detected remorse in him she might have relented. She did not. As a result we are about to go to court and the reputation of the School Board has been unmercifully sullied and our supervision over our children’s schools deeply unsettled.

I would turn the question on Annie. Is she felling any remorse for the part she played in letting these events get out of control? I don’t know but like her I’d like to think she is suffering some remorse whether she admits to to it or not.

Rosie

March 25th, 2015

This post and the next will reference small interactions that too place in the closed session but which, in my estimation, do not give away anything related to data privacy.

Member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp spoke earnestly about the need to keep the meetings discussion confidential. She has done this in other closed sessions almost always with a furtive nod in my direction which I have taken as accusatory and very particularly directed at me. Not tonight. It came out pro forma like something an official is always expected to say much like accountants always quote that paragraph in their audits about its being in compliance with official accounting standards.

Just before the meeting as I was heading in the parking lot Rosie passed me in her car going the opposite direction. She saw me and smiled pleasantly and gave me a wave which I reciprocated. Readers will note that this was quite different than the last time we had eye contact and Rosie was still smarting over my comments about the young African American who attended the conference on citizen involvement. If the School Board wasn’t about to dive full fledged into a courtroom again I’d take these as an excellent sign that we could go back to square one. Alas this is not to be.

Since Art Johnston’s character has come under so much scrutiny I feel compelled to honor the sage old adage what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. For a long time I’ve thought that the only Board member that would escape terribly hard scrutiny in my evaluations would be the youngest member Annie Harala. But no. Even Annie will be subject to my more rigorous scrutiny. I left a phone message with Annie asking that she call me back in the hopes that we could still find one more way to escape the coming legal assault. She did not return my call. Neither, of course, did the Superintendent.

Rosie’s demeanor yesterday suggested to me what might have been an opening to resolve our differences. We have not made that step. Once again I say Damn us, Damn me.

Restoration

March 25th, 2015

I can’t say much more about our closed meeting yesterday than the Duluth News Tribune reported.

The School Board expelled two students as the story says. It follows on the heals of a troubling incident that made the front page of the Trib several days running. Draw any connection you wish. I will say that the school board asked almost every question that I think the public is asking. By virtue of being Board members we had our questions answered. We were concerned with justice. For my part I mentioned that in the early days of plane hijacking people in airports who joked about hijacking a plane were carted off.

We were concerned that there be some redemption possible. Our school leaders assured us that restorative justice would be employed. That’s something I’ve been enthusiastic about for a number of years although I’m not convinced we are as well practiced in it in ISD 709 as we should be.

The School Board unanimously agreed with the Administration’s response and went in to vote on our public resolution to accept the expulsions described. The Denfeld band was setting up to give us a little Music in the Schools concert so we shooed them out for five minutes to keep them uncontaminated from the unpleasantness.

Whatever our failings that may have helped lead up to tonight I think we acquitted ourselves well this night.

Home improvement

March 24th, 2015

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past ten years cleaning out my attic. The plan has been to turn it into an office where I can put my vast quantity of files and books for easy retrieval. It was only last year that I finally wore down my better half who has always planned to throw everything of mine away. Well, this is the attic as it was just before the project began. Note, I still had a huge stack of stuff in the center that I had no room to take to the rest of the house. The contractors have had to shuffle it around to blow in insulation and hang sheetrock.

The work is going very fast and I’m looking forward to having it ready to paint in a week or two. Organizing it will take a month or more.

My blogging sometimes suffers from other preoccupations. Yesterday I couldn’t get past a growing pile in my claustrophobic current office. I did start the day by ironing eight or nine shirts while watching the fifth episode of HBO’s Newsroom. And when the contractors cleared out I spent two hours vacuuming the house. Its the least I can do since I’ve inflicted the mess on my reluctant spouse. In between I just couldn’t get worked up to post any blog material. As for the weekend…..that was reserved for my family. I took my grandson’s hiking in Oregon Creek. They both looked good in burrs but didn’t like having me remove them. I feel the same way about my school board.

I woke up today at 2:30 with the free press on my mind. After a couple hours of tossing and turning I gave in and wrote a 1600 word post on the subject just to get it out of my head. I’m unresolved whether to edit it and stick it in the blog. I never did find the energy or time to edit the two posts I promised to improve upon from last week. I spent the time vacuuming instead.

The Lone Ranger

March 20th, 2015

I cranked out the two previous posts last night in about two hours and went back to bed certain that I needed to return to them for proof reading. I’ll get to that proofing sometime this afternoon but for now I’ve got my fingers crossed that I didn’t make too big a hash of my story telling in the first go round. Editing will good work for me as the new crew of foam insulators tromps around up above me in my attic. Having just donated a pint of blood I’m supposed to avoid hard physical labor today. Serving lunch at the Damiano shouldn’t violate that.

I did pick up the latest Duluth Reader on my way to Memorial Blood Bank. Loren Martell has a good and much more detailed analysis of Art Johnston’s legal maneuvering than I’ve provided to date. I still have to print out the 67 page legal brief Art mailed me.

My Mom always told me that it takes two to make a fight and our school board is no exception. We are all to blame for turning our backs on Duluth’s children to fight for the Constitution or for the enforcement of lip zipping. Gosh, I think I’ve given away my prejudices. I should just have said its a David and Goliath battle – justice vs. power – and we all, along with our children, will be the losers no matter its outcome.

Bear with the Messenger while he shakes off his waking up …

March 20th, 2015

…at midnight on the first day of Spring.

I’ve not had many idle hours since returning from Florida Disney’s fantasy land to the nightmare before Spring in Duluth. Today will be busy too. I donate blood at 8 AM then serve lunch at eleven at the Damiano Center. Hopefully the new crew of foam insulators will arrive while I’m away and take up with a bigger machine from the job that was a tad beyond that of the first crew this week. Hopefully between errands I’ll be able to pick up the small habitable space in my current office and do some serious writing.

Yesterday was busy too. I vacuumed the heck out of the floors several times to remove particles of insulation. Some of that work was to tidy up before a cleaning crew came in at noon and cleaned up the rooms in the house that weren’t full of the stuff I cleared out of the attic. Then I helped some teamsters haul fifty four-by-eight sheet rock panels up to my attic. Then I poured through a thousand or more old emails in a desperate attempt to free up my email system which is so overgrown with ancient email it barely works.

I had gotten up early to post two emails regarding an acquaintance that was discussing the issue of effective school size. I gave her a little grief with my tsk tsking about her comment that I get myself educated on the latest research and she sent me a lol to let me know we were still friends. I wrote back that I liked showing the public how grownups could have a serious conversation something missing from my interactions with the Duluth School Board majority.

I gave a peace mission one last try a couple days ago after our meeting on Demographics. I asked the Superintendent to find some time for us to have a brief meeting. Read the rest of this entry »

Witnessing

March 20th, 2015

The lunch room of the old Lincoln had a crowd of over a hundred people when I arrived late because I thought the meeting was being held at the new Lincoln Middle School. I’d judge that at least a quarter of the folks in attendance were from the minority community. We were exhorted to behave in a civil way with a list of dos and don’ts that emphasized sympathetic listening rather than the Civility Project’s Minnesota Nice approach to discussions. Then the one hundred were broken up into quartiles and my group headed to a noisy corner of the café.

We introduced ourselves first and I kept notes trying to remember names. One of the ground rules that I winced at was an insistence that we could only make public comments we heard with the permission of the speaker at least concerning their own personal stories. I’ll try to honor that here now although my readers would benefit from the telling of what I heard. Read the rest of this entry »

And a follow up email to the last one

March 19th, 2015

Again my answer sare inserted in your email.

Harry

On Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 5:58 AM, ******* wrote:

Harry, Does the chart from the trib use a total building capacity number instead of a student capacity number? That number can be hugely different. 

Great Question and I wish I’d thought to ask it although there were no facility experts at the meeting to answer it. I presumed the chart’s numbers only reflected classroom capacity. In the Congdon School case I did the math and asked if the maximum student capacity listed, 675, matched the number of classrooms 27 that would be possible if you presumed there were no small special ed, ECFE, Headstart classes etc. The Congdon principal was there an confirmed that my calculation seemed correct to her so, I think in that case the numbers arrived at match the chart. Whether that’s true of the secondary schoolls I have no idea.

As the “building standard” used, in at least the early red plan builds, required ONLY 21 general Ed classrooms be built in each elementary school. You do the math: 21 classroom x 30 students each =640 students per building. That is on the HIGH side estimate though, as not every classroom was built to hold 30 kids at the elementary level. I think kindergarten was around 22 students each, 1-2 was like 24, and and 3-5 was 27. Something close like that.  Each elementary was suppose to have 4 k-2 rooms each, and 3 3-5 rooms each. 12 rooms (k-2) + 9 rooms (3-5) = 21 classrooms. 

******, reading this I can only say it is a great shame you were not on the school board during the Red Plan fiasco.

And then you look at schools like Piedmont, which when it first opened after being built, it needed 6 kindergarten rooms. So, our fancy new buildings had to use spaces not specifically designed to have kindergarten classes in them. 

I guess the Red Plan’s much heralded State demographer’s report had some glaring errors.

That number appears to not include the spaces for other school functions like the gym, cafeteria, special Ed classrooms, and support services.  That is where building capacity can be dramatically different than student capacity. 

The numbers for capacity used in the graphic look like Fire Marshall ordered numbers for the entire building. 

I just don’t know.

An email disputing my last post …

March 19th, 2015

*******,

….with:

My thoughts are inserted in your email.

Harry

On Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 8:20 PM, ******** wrote:

Harry You need to look at the research of an effective size of a high school which maximizes personal attention while being able to offer maximum opportunities for students. 

After we spent $480 million on the Red Plan its too late to consider the best size for high schools in ISD 709. What we have is what we will continue to have. I don’t disagree with the enrollment recommendations you mention. I’ve always been appalled at the NY City model where their schools were huge and so soulless they were given numbers instead of names. But on the other hand I’m not a one kind fits all sort of fellow. I’m prepared to make what we have work as well as it can and believe the human touch, given a chance, can overcome all sorts of facility disadvantages including size.

The high schools were too BIG. Over and over again research points to enrollment sizes UNDER 1000 kids, some even suggesting 700 students is the perfect number, to be the most effective at providing the best education. 

We will not need to close a high school. Edison will be the perfect size high school and that’s what will pull our students away. And that may force our schools smaller and our actual educating of the students may drastically improve. Or we could lump them all back into one high school and continue the status quo against all research suggestions on enrollment. 

I agree that Edison’s size will be a draw but it will also not be able to offer what the ISD 709 schools do because of financial constraints. Our schools will become necessarily smaller with an Edison school in the vicinity but that will have more negative initial impacts than positive ones. Why? Because smaller students mean a smaller faculty and more limited course offerings – And Because maintenance costs will increase as we have more empty space (the primary justification for building the Red Plan in the first place) – And because we will find ourselves losing some of our more stable students leaving a little more concentrated free and reduced lunch population in our schools with attendant consequences – And because as our teachers fall under more stress trying to match Edison’s zeal it will become harder and harder to live one day at a time. What’s happening now at Denfeld will surely accelerate.

As for abandoning Denfeld that is no more a practical option than it was ten years ago – at least for a while. And I agree about the size issue. I opposed a single school for two reasons. First because I didn’t think it would fly politically and second because one huge school would have had the effect of turning kids into numbers. I may have been a little alarmist in this post owing to my frustration and my penchant for irony as in Look at the fine mess the Red Plan has left us with . That’s a point I grimly enjoy repeating ad nauseam. I see no great upside to the community as a whole in the creation of a new Edison High School and I expect to have two grandsons attending it.

Educate yourself on the topic. 

*******…tsk, tsk, tsk…isn’t that comment a touch patronizing?

Did I mention…

March 18th, 2015

…that in addition to everything else on Monday while Art was lobbying in St. Paul I also was working on finishing up my Conservatorship over my Mother and working on my own rather complicated federal income taxes. I didn’t think I had. Then there is the packet of family history that my Aunt Mary sent me and a call last night from a fellow who wants me to document my Grandfather’s life for a book. I’m very distracted but I always come back to the primary diver of my school board life……Keeping the District in good health despite stormy winds.

Jana Hollingsworth put me at the end of her story today mentioning my questioning about whether the Demographers considered the “elephant in the room” – the possibility that our half billion gamble on the Red Plan could leave us with one unnecessary high school should Edison decide to build a high school and pull 600 kids out of our ISD 709 high schools.

When I looked at the graph in the Trib on building capacities I saw a mistake right away. The graph in the DNT showed that about 2700 kids fit in East Ordean and about 2500 fit in Denfeld. Why that’s a thousand more at each school than I remembered seeing in the chart from the Demographer’s. Here’s the Trib’s chart:

Except that the Trib’s chart is right and my memory is faulty.

According to these figures we have a Red Plan theorized capacity of over 5,000 9-12 students. Heck. East Ordean has the capacity, according to this chart, for both East’s 1,500 and Denfeld’s 900 students. Subtract 600 students out of that total and all our kids will fit into Ordean East very comfortably. Just think of the savings if we went to one high school! That’s what one-high-school proponents argued at the beginning of the Long Range Facilities Planning process…….only they imagined them all being located at the Central High location.

Imagine my chagrin. When I left the School Board in 2004 I did so without a fight because I had spent four or five years arguing that Duluth was a two high school town not a three high school town. I gave up on ever winning that argument. But Dr. Dixon managed to get it done……not my way – by saving a million by simply closing one high school – but by spending $480 million on rebuilding our entire school plant.

So, we have two public high schools today with the possibility, if not likelihood, that Edison will add one more. We will be back to what I was fighting eleven years ago three unsustainable public high schools. Something will have to give. Maybe it will be Harbor City ….maybe it will be Marshall High…..maybe it will be Denfeld. Maybe it will be all or a couple of these high schools.

No one can say that watching the Duluth Schools is boring. You must, however, have a high tolerance for antacid.

Making sure an Art Johnston can’t happen again

March 18th, 2015

By Art Johnston I mean – an attempt to remove a Board member on insufficient grounds.

I had told Art that I would go down with him again on Monday this week to lobby for the Senate File 539 that would put an end to the 1858 wording that gives School Board’s authority to vote off a dissenting member for “proper cause.” I had too much going on to accompany Art but he called with good news. This Senate Bill now has a companion House Bill HF1962 to go along with it making it more possible for passage. Both bills have sponsors on both sides of the aisle.

As Art and school board members from other stricken districts circulate they are finding a receptive audience among legislators. As Senator Terri Bonoff said during her testimony last week before the Senate subcommittee on elections, she couldn’t imagine that legislators would accept a system in which a group of legislators could remove another elected representative with so little fuss and bother. Elections should be close to sacred. So, now the law has found sponsors in the House.

I don’t know whether the law will pass this year and frankly I’m a too preoccupied in Duluth with ISD 709 and personal projects to lobby weekly at the moment. Besides, the law can be pushed next session if it fails this time.

The strange chronology of a daily blog

March 18th, 2015

I have been stockpiling blog posts in my mind for a week now. Several things conspired to interrupt their flow to the Internet. For one thing the ire of one Denfeld teacher gave me pause. I regretted that I publicly drew attention to one of two teachers who made themselves vulnerable by bringing forth the concerns of many other Denfeld teachers. I left my self flagellation for this on my blog to attone for this. But, as readers saw yesterday, my self criticism only extends so far. It does not extend to any other School Board member who takes it upon themselves to jump on the dog pile I started.

My other distraction is the renovation of my attic. At the moment I have its contents stuffed in my basement and in two bedrooms. Finding my old filed documents is difficult and workers are coming in and out of the house. We are in the middle of foaming insulation on the attic floor. Soon it will be sheet rocking. Its keeping me and my vacuum cleaner busy.

The most important post for the day today (which I have yet to write) relates to the banner headline “Nevermind” on the front page of the News Tribune. For my literalist readers I suppose I have to explain that the nevermind is meant to be ironic. We were told a year and a half ago that our elementary schools were due for massive overcrowding.

I will blogging things as they occur to me and not necessarily ranked in importance. That means in the layout of a blog that the first things will appear last as readers scroll down. That’s why I often leave a note in extended postings encouraging readers to go to the first in a succession of posts and read up. I won’t do that today. Most of my posts won’t be tied together in that kind of order.

Member Miernicki’s triumphalism

March 17th, 2015

an email to all Duluth School Board members:

“So much for “Honesty is the Best Policy.” Thank you Mr. White. You are an excellent teacher and role model for our students. We do need to recognize that there are people who will use any negative to further their cause.
Best Wishes,

Mike Miernicki”

Mr. White’s email and my reply to Mr. White

March 17th, 2015

Harry, I read your blog where you reported that I had students in his trigonometry class who didn’t know their multiplication tables.

I never said that. Read the rest of this entry »

Denfeld Trigonometry students know their times tables

March 14th, 2015

I owe Duluth Denfeld a profound apology for defaming them two posts ago. I wrote that one of the teachers who spoke to the Duluth school board Wednesday night said that some trig students came in not knowing their multiplication tables. I was sent an email by this teacher which I will post in full later. He said my comment smacked of politics and he was right. It was and my claim was bull. Its one of the things I recalled but I knew even as I typed it that it simply could not be true and yet I typed it anyway. So much for fact checking. So much for my honesty.

Denfeld has problems it doesn’t need one angry school board member to heap unwarranted abuse on a school that so many revere. I was mad. I was mad at the treatment of these teachers who have gotten the strong hint that just maybe they should find hushed and circumspect ways of registering their concerns. So I managed to prove that the fears were justified and compound Denfeld’s difficulties.

A little over a thousand people have read that post by now. I’ll leave this one as my last post for a few days so that when they return they can learn for themselves that I’ve been an ass and report my foolishness to those who may only have heard my incendiary accusation in rumors.

What the District’s lawyers didn’t want me to share with the public

March 11th, 2015

Ignorance is bliss……such is the philosophy of anyone working with ISD 709. Tell the truth about the fire sale of Central High and you might be censured. Among the many things I was forbidden to talk about are the fiscal implications for our District from a tar baby court case. Art Johnston’s attorneys advised our school district attorneys of the implications for their case proceeding but, of course, we were told not to share the letter with the public. Well, Art just sent all the media, with the possible exception of the Duluth News Tribune, the letter we board members were sent many weeks ago. I’ll share a couple paragraphs with you since they are now out in the open. BTW – I am a lousy typist and there is lots of punctuation and court case names that would slow me down so I’ll just put in the highlights. I don’t have a copy of the text that I can simply copy by way of my computer. BTW 2- as attorneys are forbidden to contact the opposite legal party (our school board) this letter was sent to our attorneys Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger P.A.:

We write to make sure the Duluth School District and its Board of Education are aware of the risks and potential financial exposure the District will face should you proceed with the attempt to remove Art Johnston from the Board.

The Board’s resolution proposes Mr. Johnston’s removal based on various “comments” he made. An attempted removal based on comments would blatantly violate the First Amendment. Moreover, the “Code of Ethics” underlying the proposed removal is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. As for the resolution’s cited objectionable “conduct,” e.G. Mr. Johnston’s June 4, 2014 interactions with Superintendent Gronseth and Board Chair Miernicki, the conduct alleged falls far short of the malfeasance or nonfeasance the Minnesota Constitution requires before a School Board may remove a member.

Mr. Johnston had the right, indeed, the obligation, to say exactly what the Board resolution claims he had no right to say. He is prepared to protect and vindicate his right to speak. Upon vindication of this rights, he will seek to recover his attorney’s fees and costs. There are better uses for School District resources than paying for litigation.

…The Code of Ethics is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. A federal court will enjoin its enforcement under 42 U.S.C. SSS 1983, with attorney’s fees and costs awarded under SSS 1988. [Republican Party v White is cited along with the court award to the aggrieved party of $1.37 million for prevailing-party attorney fees)

In particular, the Code's fourth paragraph, which directs School Board members to "[r]efrain from disparaging remarks about other board members,” chills constitutionally protected expression…

…The resolution goes on to propose Mr. Johnston’s removal under the Code of Ethics based on his alleged “behavior.”…But the behavior” described is not behavior at all. It consists of “accusations,” “criticism,” and “claims”-in other words, constitutionally protected expression….

…As the Supreme Court held in White while invalidating the Minnesota Rule prohibiting judicial candidates from announcing views: “The role that elected officials play in our society makes it all the more imperative that they be allowed freely to express themselves on matters of current public importance….Mr. Johnston is no exception.

I hate typing from text so I’ll end here although the letter goes on to annihilate many of the District’s other charges against Art.

This is just the tip of the ice berg. I printed out 25 other pages a couple days ago from Art’s attorneys addressed to the Federal Courts and Art just sent me a much longer 67 page document. I don’t have any time at the moment to read through it but it helps explain why Art legal costs are already about three times what he makes from his annual school board service. If Art’s attorney’s are right the court will likely force the District to pay them all and Art’s costs will soon skyrocket.

NOTE: one of my chief irritations with the legal system is the power to intimidate people who do not have the resources to hire attorneys. Our board’s unlimited access to our tax money to pursue this indefensible court case is all it needs to bulldoze Art……if only he didn’t have such a powerful case. I am sure Attorney Rupp counted on Art to cower in the face of insurmountable legal bills. That’s what happened to a very young school board member I met in St. Paul last week. His is an interesting story I’d love to tell if the School Board would just stop shoveling so many blog worthy anecdotes my way. Right now Art Johnston is on his way out of state to advise a Department of Transportation on bridge building to help pay for these immoral expenses forced down his throat by our school board majority’s vendetta.

BTW – I’ve made many disparaging remarks about the District’s attorney, Kevin Rupp, and hinted that his firm has a huge financial conflict of interest in pursuing the case against Art. Things have changed since I started this post yesterday. Art has learned that Rupp’s firm has given way to the District’s other legal firm Ratwik to represent the District. I believe this is strong evidence that I’ve been right all along. Nonetheless, the Ratwik firm will be happy to represent us. They will get paid even if they are pushing a losing case and God knows how much it will cost. The White case referred to by Art’s attorneys cost $1.37 million and that was twenty years ago. Twin City’s lawyers charge even more today. A case going to the US Supreme Court could take years.

Art’s attorneys who know something about legal malpractice cases (one having defended Kevin Rupp in legal malpractice case) suspect that the District’s insurance company that will be saddled with much of any pending claims may have taken over control of the case. Its quite possible that they dumped Rupp for Ratwik to avoid charges of legal malpractice. Its just a theory but it sounds plausible to me.

I, of course, would know nothing about any of this. I am only a Duluth School Board member. I’m told nothing. I didn’t know we’d changed law firms. I’m sure Chair Judy Seliga-Punyko and Clerk Rosie Loeffler-Kemp know what’s going on and possibly the other board members who are named in Member Johnston’s suit. How one school board can find itself so at odds with its own members so regularly is beyond me. Gary Glass was the first and Judy Seliga-Punyko had a hand in that mess as well. How ironic it is that she is such a big proponent of looking on the sunny side.

One other thing has occurred to me and I might as well mention it here. A new school board might decide to cut its losses and scrap this harebrained suit to undermine the First Amendment. I think voters might cotton to any candidate who would promise to jettison the courts and start paying attention to our schools. Unless and until a change in our Board permits it our legal costs will continue to soar while our graduation rates continue to plummet.

And just what did those silenced teachers tell us?

March 11th, 2015

We received four letters from four different academic departments some weeks ago representing about twenty teachers. There’s safety in numbers. I’ll include only one of them for my readers benefits although each department offered their separate take on the difficulties Denfeld teachers are confronted with. This comes from the English faculty.

January 22, 2015

Dear Superintendent Gronseth and Duluth School Board,

Passing students from grade to grade, whether or not they have mastered the basic standards, has become commonplace in our school district. According to Steve Baskin, author of The Gift of Failure (2011), promoting students before they have mastered the required skills of a course simply is not an advantage for students. Baskin states, “[Success] is not something conferred; it is earned through taking risks and developing skills.” In fact, in a study of 99,000 students, it was found that “…retained students out-performed promoted students in reading in the first year after retention, and these gains increased substantially the second year” (Greene and Winters: Revisiting Grade Retention, 2006). The problem our district must face today is that not one study since the 80s has tied students who are ill-prepared but promoted to lower drug or alcohol use, higher graduation rates, or higher GPAs. In fact, promotion without proficiency was outlawed in New York as early as 1982. Read the rest of this entry »

Short Shrift for Education

March 11th, 2015

As I headed off to my church men’s club meeting this morning I thought back on yesterday’s Education meeting in the safe surroundings of my Toyota I cut lose with a string of vivid imprecations. Reading today’s Trib story about the meeting you would not imagine that it could have had such a dramatic impression on me. But the second sentence highlights the gravity of what we barely discussed because we scheduled the meeting on the same day as township elections and thus only allotted fifteen minutes per agenda item:

That second sentence?

With 75 percent of its freshmen class deficient in math and 67 percent in reading, the school [Denfeld] can only do so much, she said.

When I ran for the school board I had the Trib publish my thoughts that “gangrene” had set in in ISD 709. I’m furious to say that every news paper story of late has verified the sentiment I expressed even though it provoked a bit of a backlash. I told the Board that back in 1987 I was teaching in Morgan Park Middle school and was concerned because too many of my seventh and eighth graders were not proficient in reading and writing. But……and this is critical, there was nothing like a 67 percent deficiency in my student’s reading. Thirty percent would be a fair guess (and this is only a guess) but not double that percentage plus.

This is as close as I can come to confirming my long suspicion that student needs utterly fell by the wayside as we built our monument to education called the Red Plan. We switched kids and teachers and schools around for five years at the convenience of contractors and JCI as it sped along to grab our money and run. Education was an after thought. Now, years later, we are seeing the Red Plan’s most costly legacy – our utter failure to educate our children. And we Board members were given a lousy fifteen minutes to discuss this.

That’s not completely fair. After my light for questions was ignored to move on to the next fifteen minute subject I finally got a chance to ask some questions when we ended the meeting with ten minutes to spare. Chair Harala allowed us to return to the subject before the 6 PM cut off. By that time one of two teachers who had come to talk to us had left, Mr. White, a math teacher. He had told us before he left after our first fifteen minutes that he had students in his trigonometry class who didn’t know their multiplication tables.

I didn’t even know we had any of the two dozen Denfeld teachers in the audience who had corresponded with the Board as we began eating up our first fifteen minutes with a lot of Boardroom pontificating. It was only after I expressed frustration that the meeting with the teachers long sought by Art Johnston and me had left us a miserable fifteen minutes with no teachers that they were introduced for seven minutes of interrogation. Talk about short shrift. I was embarrassed for myself for the Board and for our “shabby, shabby, shabby” treatment of these teachers. That’s what I wrote in my notes of the meeting.

When told we had to go on with our next agenda item I left the table to talk to the remaining teacher to ask my question. I told him that I had the same question for him and the faculty that I had given his principal last year. If it was in the School Board’s power to grant any wish what would he/they ask for? I was told that he didn’t feel he could speak for the entire faculty and that, anyway, the teachers realized they had not offered us any solutions. (and solutions will be hard to come by because most likely they will all involve money)

I also briefly chatted with his principal, Tonia Sconiers, at the end of the meeting to make sure she didn’t object to my coming over and talking to the faculty. She was most gracious and suggested that she could set up a meet and greet for me.
by pointing out that Chair Seliga-Punyko had forcefully refused to let me meet with the Quality Steering Committee. This is a committee made up of administrators and teachers to discuss joint concerns. Instead I had to rely on her appointee to the QSC, Member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, to tell us what was discussed. I hadn’t heard back from her appointee so as per usual I was left in the dark. I may have made some people feel a tad defensive. As we hurried on to our adjournment Rosie offered some generalities that only whetted my appetite for real information.

As we abruptly quit two hours later I commented that this was the second important board meeting that had been cut short this year. Chair Seliga-Punyko looked over at me and said she thought we had had a satisfactory discussion or words to that effect. She feels the same way about the topic of the Red Plan.

The only person in the room during the meeting that I know for sure lives in a township told me afterward she was unimpressed with our reason for quitting our so early even if the early adjournment was mandated by state law. She was a former township officer.