Category Archives: Duluth Schools

If bad news is better than no news maybe the Duluth Schools will be OK

Last night I got positively no sleep other than a quick doze for an hour at about 5:30 AM. I was awash in thoughts, enjoyable thoughts, much to my annoyance since the sleeplessness they cause puts me at risk of dementia. So, I was wide awake at 7:00 AM when I got up to prepare for today. I had another day of painting window casings at church waiting for me followed by putting up new storm windows. We had gotten so much work done the day before I had hopes of retiring the job for the year today. We only have 14 of 96 storms left to put up. No such luck. We’ll be putting them up tomorrow morning if the rain holds off.

I had to tell my work crew that I would be leaving them to go and film a five minute campaign intro speech at City Hall. This is where the office of Public Access Cable TV is. thinking about what I might say is part of what kept me up the previous night and I had an outline in my mind. I added a prologue to it after scanning a longish email from a friend who also couldn’t sleep last night. In her email she second guessed all my posts and my campaign. I only found it ten minutes before I had to the work crew so I had her concerns on my mind as I drove to City Hall. Her email was helpful. I added a prologue mentioning the difficulties facing ISD 709 and I compared myself to Elizabeth Warren – she of the many plans.

I had also gotten the idea of setting up my cell phone to record whatever I ended up saying at PACT. I did all that and was back at church in about an hour, by which time the rain had put an end to the window work. We found other tasks to accomplish and after lunch together I came home after promising that I’d go back if the rain ended. It did stop I went back to work until after 5. By that time tonight’s school board meeting was only an hour away.

It was a slog so little to do taking ever so long. A second “special” meeting was held after the regular meeting to talk once again about how to select a replacement for Josh Gorham. I could only take about 45 minutes of that and came home wishing the board members had done a little talking with each other beforehand. They ran the meeting like they were walking on eggshells. Come to think of it, they were. The Western Equity Group and the NAACP were on their case from the public comment time on. The District is making news but not the kind it wants.

I introduced myself to the Trib’s Ed reporter for the first time. To my surprise it was almost like she knew me. Maybe she’s peeked at the blog, poor thing. Then I got an even bigger surprise. I was introduced to the New Minneapolis Star Trib reporter who-has-moved-to-Duluth to cover the Duluth Schools! That is an absolute first. We are now under the microscope of the entire state of Minnesota.

In the last few days I’ve been rethinking my aims. Trump is bloating up like a corpse in a scummy pond. After feeling the magic ball of the Saudies they felt secure in carving up a reporter into mince meat and have now so provoked Iran, with Trump’s blessing, that they have accused Iran of blowing up half of the Saudi’s oil production. Just what the world needs a firestorm aided an abetted by the smartest person on Earth who is only giving the Iranians a good reason to build a nuclear deterrent to Saudi Arabia.

I may challenge Pete Stauber but as this election gets closer I’m realizing I’m not finished with the School Board. We’ve hit bottom and there is no way to go but up. I’d love to be on that rocket while the Strib covers our recovery. Yeah, Trump world is the Apocalypse but maybe we can put on a lead coat to protect our children. I want to do the tailoring.

BTW – my four-not-five minutes at PAC TV was swell. I’ll put it up in a couple days and share it with you.

Taking it on the chin

I will make one point about all the negative publicity the School Board has recently attracted in a busy week of editorials, op eds and letters-to-the-editor. Its no fun to take it on the chin. Most of us don’t have armadillo like armor just the Armadillo’s reflex to curl up into a ball.

I caught a lot of grief for disclosing the sale price of a since scuttled sale of Central High. I was a bone head to do it but when I did it I was under the honest, if mistaken, impression that the $10 million dollar sales figure had already been made public. That gave the censurers an excuse to embarrass me but my real “crime” was speaking my mind on this blog. And I got off easy like President Andrew Jackson when he was censured by Congress. However, what my Board colleagues did to Art Johnston, by attacking him through his partner, accusing him an NAACP board member of racism, and violence when the target of his “attack” denied that there was one; was far more vile.

So, please pardon me for an un-gallant moment of small mindness. I am gratified to have prima facie evidence that I was not the cause of all the school board’s dysfunction when I served on it between 2013 and 2017. Josh Gorham, who defeated me in 2017, has made it clear that, like me, he was appalled at the District’s hush hush attitude about public data. If there was ever any doubt that we are in the right, the $55,000 penalty Minnesota Courts forced the School Board to hand over to another “renegade” board member, Art Johnston, simply demonstrated that State law is on the side of transparency.

Quick thoughts on . . .

Transpanency: The Trib adds to the story of an unhappy school board. I offered the video and some context here.

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/education/4655508-Duluth-School-Board-members-call-transparency-of-superintendent-search-into-question

Tonya Sconiers

I must admit that the summary of Tonya’s crimes seems a bit inflated by the District. You would never know that Tonya once slavishly supported Keith Dixon and the early reign of Bill Gronseth.

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/education/4654848-Former-Denfeld-principal-Tonya-Sconiers-termination-letter-claims-conduct-unbecoming-a-principal

Stauber, National Crisis, parking lots

Yes Congressman Stauber’s spouse was a warrior in Iraq. But its not just money for a parking lot in West-point that is being diverted to protect America from Mexican “rapists.” It’s billions of dollars from national security to save us from rape. That is a crises and Pete is happy to stoke it. If we really cared about rapists we might have been a little more careful about who we appointed to the Supreme Court. Or maybe Congress would help fund 200,000 untested rape kits sitting on evidence room shelves all over America.

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/government-and-politics/4653800-Citing-crisis-Stauber-approves-of-border-wall-spending

“Sankofa” at Duluth’s AME Church

I was invited to attend St. Marks AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church on Saturday. I haven’t decided whether to attend but after reading this article I calculated that the church was built in 1888. That was the year after my Grandfather George Robb’s birth. My grandfather’s next door neighbor was Larry Lapsley who escaped from slavery in Texas during the Civil War. When the Trib story says St.Marks was built by ex slaves its true. The Civil War had ended only twenty-seven years before construction began.

I particularly liked the description of the Ghanaian word “Sankofa” because only a few days ago I was accused of looking backwards at the School District’s misadventures. According to the folks who cherish this word it “symbolizes a sense of needing to look back in order to move forward.” To that I say, “Hallelujah!”

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/lifestyle/faith/4655507-St.-Mark-AME-Church-reflects-on-131-years

Not ready for the Junk Man

One reason I missed NP Radio is because I woke up at one minute to seven (what a wonderful night’s sleep that was) and found myself with sixteen minutes to comb my hair and race up to our Church on Woodland Avenue. I didn’t want to be late for the Men’s group.

Today’s presentation was an explanation of the Superior Street Project by an LHB engineer. But before it got started one of our members, an old pastor, began by telling us the story of one of his church’s old parishioners. She was always busy helping everywhere. She was alone with a wealthy family to the east she had little use for. When she died the family insisted that her remains be sent to the East cremated and forgotten. The church couldn’t stop that but they could at least hold their own memorial service for her. It was packed.

Our pastor read us the Carl Sandburg poem he had read at her service. Its titled, “The Junk Man”

I AM glad God saw Death
And gave Death a job taking care of all who are tired of living:

When all the wheels in a clock are worn and slow and the connections loose
And the clock goes on ticking and telling the wrong time from hour to hour
And people around the house joke about what a bum clock it is,
How glad the clock is when the big Junk Man drives his wagon
Up to the house and puts his arms around the clock and says:
“You don’t belong here,
You gotta come
Along with me,”
How glad the clock is then, when it feels the arms of the Junk Man close around it and carry it away
.

After the reading my fellow bass in the choir offered the lyrics of the song “For the Beauty of the Earth.” It was the song my Mother chose for us to sing at my Father’s funeral.

As for the presentation. It was very interesting. For a hundred and twenty years our narrow main street has been left largely untouched under its “skin.” One of the many features which are being replaced touches on Old Central. The steam pipes from the Steam Plant that heats downtown buildings also heat Old Central. But we have steam pipes. I had been hearing that the school district needed to begin planning to retro fit Old Central for the new hot water heat from the Steam Plant. I doubt we’ve done anything yet. Not with the cost of fixing the old building having ballooned from $18 million to $48 million dollars. It needs to be done now before the steam heat is discontinued. Old Central is not ready for the Junk Man.

Rosie had to clean out her Mother’s House

For a second night in a row I went to Old Central and the School Board room to listen in on the standing committees. Last night after two hours of a meeting I thought would be completed in half an hour I gave up the ghost and left. My brief discription of that meeting can be found in the previous post.

I made light of it but the tortured length of the meeting and the board member’s willingness to nail down every detail demonstrates how serious they all are about making the selection of our next School Superintendent next year flawless. No one could have, or should have, had any doubt about the importance of dotting every i and crossing every t. But evidently one person did just that. Perhaps intentionally.

I was amazed when former teacher and now county attorney Nora Sanstad called on Rosie to step down from the chairmanship in the Duluth News Tribune a couple days ago. Her ire may have begun well before she learned that she had been asked to vote to hire an assistant principal without being informed he had a colorful past. But when internal politics led Josh Gorham to resign Nora seems to felt Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s machinations were responsible for his abrupt departure.

When Alanna Oswald joined the Board Art Johnston and I finally had enough votes to make school board meetings public on Youtube. Thank goodness. Here’s tonight’s meeting.

Alanna begins the meeting asking for an explanation about how the District can hire employees before the board approves of the hires. This likely related to the hiring of our new assistant superintendent who has recently been caught in the public glare. Then Nora put the topic in sharper focus after David Kirby brushed off Alanna’s question by saying that board members shouldn’t interfere in the hiring process other than their only employee the Superintendent of Schools. That lit a fuse.

23:00 minutes in Nora fiercely asked HR Director Sworsky why he ignored her request to preview the RFP (request for proposals) to potential headhunters who will manage our Superintendent Search. After some fencing Mr. Sworsky suggested Nora ask the Chair of the Board – Rosie.

For the next twenty minutes Rosie pointed fingers everywhere but herself. Nora pursues her lame answers like a surgeon with a sharp scalpel. In the end Rosie sniffs that she chose instead to help clean her Mother’s house. “The dog ate my homework.” That comes at 42:10.

I’ve always wondered if Nora would ever regret letting the public know that she thought Rosie should resign the Chair. That was answered at 46:34 when Nora repeats her belief that Rosie shouldn’t be the Chair.

I sympathize. A couple months into my return to the School Board Rosie stung me one-too-many-times. From then on I decided to capture every slight Rosie committed. There have been a lot of them.

I was slow to conclude that Rosie needed tending to but as I reflect on the two worst years of my School Board life Rosie Loeffler-Kemp always lurked around the periphery of every arson fire that Art Johnston and I got blamed for. And lately I’ve met people who are afraid of her. That blows my mind. But then again, Rosie seems to have oozed into every nook and cranny of Duluth politics. And she’s the School Board Chair.

I would remind Rosie what my old colleague, George Balach, said when I beat him for the Chairmanship. George told anyone who would listen that the Chairman only has one vote just like every other School Board member. Ah, but some Board Chairs are stingy with public data. I guess that’s because they are special.

Buildings are crumbling all around us

As I headed to Old Central and the school board meeting to talk about how to replace member Gorham I found myself in the midst of cars frozen into place. When they began moving I discovered the reason for the slowdown. The Adas Temple was being combed through by the Duluth Fire Marshall. I found my way around the blockade and went to a meeting I thought would be over by 5:30 which included the Education Committee scheduled to follow the former. Instead I spent the next two hours reading articles from the New York on my cell phone as the board members analyzed the process of replacement with an exactitude little short of a Superintendent’s search.

The first eight years I was on the Duluth School Board we replaced three board members. The first left town after Continue reading

Bad News Everywhere

After reading an on-scene report from the Bahamas its a little hard to work up steam about other issues like distracting Twitter Wars. There was a Hatian shanty town that was leveled with untold numbers of anonymous refugees buried under the debris. One boat with such folks on it fleeing to safety ahead of Dorian and heading to Florida kicked the illegals off to weather the storm in the Bahamas.

But there is more to be concerned about. A conflagration in Duluth burned down an historic synagogue. We’ll have to wait to find out if it could possibly have been arson. Many of us will wonder why after eighty years someone bothered to attack it now.

And there is this in the School District. Denfeld Principal Tonya Sconiers and her attorneys have announced a suit against the Superintendent and School Board. The link takes you to a press conference from Tonya’s attorneys in which they keep their client from answering any questions.

https://www.fox21online.com/2019/09/09/watch-live-sconiers-attorneys-to-announce-federal-lawsuit-against-duluth-public-schools/

I’ll spare you my conjectures at least for now. Unfairness is alleged and it is a Federal case. In my experience the Superintendent is a very risk averse leader. And yet, he proceeded with an administrative leave. The attorneys posed the question: How does a phenomenal employee suddenly become one in need of firing. They say race is a part of this suit as well as free speech. Whistle blowing is a specialty of the law firm. I will be interested in learning what whistle-blowing took place beyond blowing the whistle on the firing of a minority employee by the employee herself. Having just hired a controversial Assistant Principal, who is named in Mrs. Sconiers’ suit, does not on the face of it look good.

There appears to be as much legal self promotion in this press conference as information about the lawsuit. Here is a link to the lawfirm’s website.

Bear in mind that my name was on a suit against the Duluth Schools ten years ago with an “et al” appended to it.

“The answer is not Harry Welty”

As I was flipping through Facebook this morning I saw that someone posted the Trib’s story about the recent resignation of Josh Gorham. I couldn’t help but check the comments section and one fellow who I think is a shirt-tail relation to one of Duluth’s political families wrote simply. “Harry Welty is not the answer.”

I’m not sure what question his answer was addressing, transparency, cordiality, stamina etc., but I couldn’t help but reply so I asked him simply: “Why not?”

I’ll be interested to see if he replies.

When I was a school board member I always tried to reply to questions directed at me by email. Sometimes I got quite a lot of them.

The Trib’s report on Josh Gorham’s resignation

The headline is followed by this: “School board must now appoint someone to fill seat until a 2020 special election next fall

I hope to serve with whomever the current board chooses to take over Josh’s seat. Things just keep getting interestinger and interestinger.

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/education/4645708-Gorham-resigns-from-Duluth-School-Board-citing-frustration-with-leadership

Josh worked in the western schools and obviously has his heart set on improving things where they are the most difficult. I gave a little talk at the beginning of this campaign with words to that effect: 246 Homeless Children

Not a statement likely to suppress questions

Dear Members of the Media,

Effective immediately, I have resigned from the Duluth School Board. I made this decision as I have been compelled by ongoing circumstances to take steps to prioritize my health and well-being, family, and career.

Many personal factors informed my decision, however, I’d be remiss to not speak my peace to the general public that elected me. Life is too short and time with children is ever important to me. I made the choice to serve on the Duluth School Board because I wanted to be part of supporting a system that is focused on providing a vital service to the youth of our community.

The responsibility of the school board under the guidance of administration and board leadership to its community is to govern efficiently and lead effectively to provide for equitable education, resulting in high student achievement. Unfortunately, my experience in striving to provide accountability to educational equity has been met with what I perceive as a dismissive, maintain the status-quo approach.

My comments at a summer Education Committee (I believe in June) in response to the annual report on graduation rates and student test scores were: “Trying hard is not good enough.” The annual refrain from district leadership is: “We have improved, but it is still not acceptable.” Of course it is unacceptable, but where is the accountability and a sense of urgency?

My commentary does not reflect on school staff, principals, nor some of my board colleagues.

These are my comments for now. I would appreciate privacy moving forward.

Josh Gorham

Books for kids


Photo taken by the Trib’s Steve Kuchera.

The Second District seat I’m running for again has both rich and poor elementary school populations. Grant School, combined with Nettleton by the Red Plan, has a poverty rate of 85%. It has had some unique movers and shakers over my years on the School Board. Nettleton was once our Science magnet school and Grant was a foreign language magnet. Grant once had hundreds of adult mentors who worked with kids for a year at at time. As I recall, Men as Peacemakers, was one of the prime sponsors of the program and I participated for a year or two. The school has been rechristened as Myers-Wilkins Elementary.

Today, Principal Amy Warden is attempting to buy new books for her children. She’d like to provide them each with a book a month to take home. The Trib has a story on it here.

And this is how you can contribute to the cause:

To donate, people can drop off cash, checks or money orders, or mail a check or money order to Myers-Wilkins Elementary, 1027 N. Eighth Ave. E., Duluth, MN 55805, Attn: Books for Kids.

Applying online to be a substitute teacher

Last January I began the process of applying to be a Substitute teacher in the Duluth School District. Then I found out Claudia would need heart surgery and a nursemaid for some months afterwards during her recuperation.

I am feeling at loose ends and realize the Duluth District is desperate for subs at the moment. I just resumed the online application process. Apropos a recent blog post and news story I pass this along this question I was asked to my eight loyal readers. I am about to finish my application.

* Have you ever entered a plea of guilty or been convicted of a misdemeanor (ex. DWI), gross misdemeanor, or a felony? Yes No

If yes, please explain the nature of the charge(s) and the circumstance(s).
If yes, explain, giving date(s), cities and counties where convicted.

Please Note: A conviction will not necessarily bar you from employment. Facts, such as date of occurrence and rehabilitation will be considered. This information will be used only for job-related purposes and only to the extent permitted by applicable law.

Paperlessness

These are some of the notes I took at tonight’s school board meeting. There is nothing magical about notes. I’ve taken them diligently since college. I even kept some of my notebooks for years afterward. Anyway it was much easier taking notes this month. In July I tried to take notes on my cell phone. It was a disaster.

Not much happened tonight. It was a short summer meeting and these school board members aren’t big talkers except Chair Kemp who lavishes praise on district employees at the drop of a hat. And Alanna Oswald asks questions regularly just like me. Tonight was not a question night. I only have two pages of notes and this first one includes a mock up of a business card I imagined passing out to my classes if I was a substitute teacher. I’ve dreamed of subbing for twenty years when I was a board member. That Board disapproved of such fraternization between me and the teachers. This Board has two teachers who are set to sub. So, when the agenda got to a policy change in state law regarding school board members subbing I perked up my ears.

It was in the Human Resources Committee agenda. But the pdf wouldn’t load onto my cell phone for me to read it. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t find it. Human Resources Director, Tim Sworsky, apologized for losing his place when he too failed to locate it. You see, The school board went to “paperless” meetings. We were discussing this when I departed the board two years ago. It would supposedly save beaucoup bucks and many trees. I was old fashioned and resisted the innovation. I was secretly pleased when Mr. Sworsky was detoured in the digital world.

I came to this meeting with a note pad. Last month I had expected to find the traditional paper agenda but that was a no go. So. tonight I took notes the way I had back in college. Then the WIFI system broke down an no one at the meeting could follow the agendas on their chrome books any more. I was delighted.

Chair Kemp had come prepared. When Alanna could no longer refer to her chrome book for her Business Committee report Rosie grandly handed the forbidden paper agendas to her colleagues.

An observation about that last post

There are eight or so comments on the News Tribune’s story about Principal Sconiers Administrative Leave in their Facebook Page.

Sorry about that link. It takes you to the story not the Facebook mention with comments.

Eight replies isn’t enough to make a judgement but they were all negative. I can’t recall a lot of contrary opinions shared with me over the last half dozen years. I recall a few that echo these sentiments.

But the number of people responding to the post on the Trib’s comment section is far short of some other their other stories. That’s worth remembering. People with the strongest opinions are the first to jump on a dogpile.

“Illegal Actions”

My wife read today’s banner headline story about the Principal of Denfeld being placed on “Administrative Leave.”

She wondered why Ms. Sconiers was only placed on Administrative Leave six weeks after she hired an attorney to “investigate” illegal actions by the District. Goodness Gracious! That sounded pretty suspicious on the District’s part. Payback maybe????? Then, when I went to replace storm windows at church an hour later one of the crew wondered the very same thing.

Well, writing as the KING of investigating suspicious things about our School District I’m not overawed that a school principal under fire would want to be the first to fire a shot over the opposition’s bow. That’s what her claim of investigating the District is. Its served its purpose well by thowing suspicion on the District………a District which I must admit has been infamous for bad decision making.

While the public sits back waiting for another shoe to drop I’ll confess that I’ve heard rumors going back not six weeks but more like 12 weeks that the Denfeld Principal had flown a little too close to the sun with wax wings. Whatever the concerns have been, Ms. Sconiors has certainly turned the tables trust-wise on the Superintendent and his supportive School Board.

I’ve been in that position myself as a school board member. I just ran across an old letter I saved from the Tribune’s columnist on high-minded platitudes, Tom Wheeler. (I’m still awaiting any comment from him about the current President of the United States.) Back in 2003 Mr. Wheeler’s wrote me asking pointed questions about why a paragon of hockey virtue should be relieved of his coaching duties. Coincidentally, that subject will be a chapter in the book I’m offering for sale to finance my campaign for the School Board.

There will likely be a chapter on race relations as well. And it’s a chapter that keeps getting bigger and bigger. See the previous post to purchase a book.

Shoot self in foot Syndrome – DFL Style

Next year Joe Radinovich should be poised to replace Congressman Pete Stauber. Instead the big shot DFLer’s on the Iron Range shot him in the foot in their eagerness to give him a glorious sinecure until the campaign rolled around. They killed their best candidate to remove a Trumplican from Congress. Today the DNT reported that Joe has decided not to be the DFL candidate.

I suppose its too early to give up on the Democrats. Donald Trump is making hash of America and its values with the middle fingers he’s planted around the White House. I haven’t mentioned my inclination to challenge Pete Stauber in the GOP primary for a couple months but its on my mind. If I successfully sell my book about my experiences with Public Education I’ll have even more time to write a book to finance a Congressional Campaign on my experiences with the Republican Party shooting America in the head. Thank you Wayne Lapierre.

But first I have a school board campaign to win. To be clear. I expect to finish my four year-term on the school board. But if a lot of Democrats had just one candidate running against Pete Stauber in 2020 and they wanted to vote for an old fashioned Eisenhower or Teddy Roosevelt or Abe Lincoln Republican instead of a supporter of the gold leaf covered turd currently rewriting the Constitution I’d be happy to take those votes.

BTW – If you want to help my with my school board race I’ve made progress on my book. Feel free to put in an order for it. I’ve sold almost one forth of what I need to pay for the printing costs. A little help?

Just fifteen dollars although I’d appreciate it if you added a bit more so I could also pay for new lawn signs and mailing costs.