Category Archives: Education

A testimonial to the about-to-be-closed Lake Superior High School

From an email sent to all the Duluth School Board members……names deleted.

LSHS SHOULD STAY OPEN [**************************]Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 1:17 AM To: ************* Cc: School Board

My name is ***** *******, recent graduate of Lake Superior High School. Here is my story about how LSHS changed my life. My first year of high school I went to Superior High School. While attending there, I didnt get the one on one learning that I needed to succeed in school with my learning disability. After talking to my friends and family, I decided to get more information on LSHS. I’d heard that there were smaller class sizes, and the teachers worked hands on one on one with the students. I was put on a waiting list and soon after I was accpeted. I can honestly say LSHS gave me the confidence in myself to be dedicated to pursuing my dreams. The staff and teachers accomodated my learning requirements, amd made my focus turn from the bad things in life, to focusing on getting on track and graduating. LSHS helped me strive for my goals, and gain confidence in my education. With the help of the staff and teachers, I graduated 1 year before I was supposed to, with 2 awards. I am currently still pursuing my goals and I’m attending Lake Superior College’s Building Construction program, and working full time at McDonalds. LSHS has truly saved my life, and many other peoples lives that I know, and has set many people on the right track in life. If the school remains open, LSHS will change lives of many more teenagers that dont do well in a public school. If the school closes, it will affect the number of dropouts in Duluth greatly.

Sincerely, *******

Thugs for Better Schools II

As Tim Grover has explained quite correctly there is no more worthy reason to employ the Government’s power to take property away from homeowners than for the purpose of public education. If only Native Americans could appreciate the government’s nobility and high call to purpose. Its called eminent domain.

And yet despite Tim’s pronouncement the Dixon-led school board made much of never having had to resort to eminent domain acknowledging that ED was not a very popular thing to employ. The denial of using ED was simply not true.

Tim was right. The School Board is protected by Federal statutes which give it carte blanc authority to take private property for the Red Plan. No homeowner could have withstood the Board’s authority to take their land and homes for the purpose of public education. As a result every one of the hundred or so folks who lost their homes to a Red Plan project was threatened with eminent domain whether they had to be taken to court or not. Had they attempted to fight for their property they would have lost it with little more than a perfunctory court appearance.

This effectively meant that any homeowner’s best option was to talk tough and attempt to force the District into giving them a good price on their homes to avoid a court fight and the appearance of bullying homeowers. While it is possible the Courts might have awarded them more money from the District it would almost certainly have cost them more in legal services than a higher purchase price would have been worth. In this sense eminent domain was a weapon aimed at every citizen who’s property stood in the way of the Red Plan.

And then just a few months ago eminent domain finally was employed to take a little land away from the business owner up by the Piedmont School. Scott Kuiti had been lied to by the District’s property manager about the acquisition of land. He had been cheated out of a business tenant by the District’s realtor who took the tenant for herself after telling the tenant Kuiti’s property would be torn down by the District. He had the District’s contractor tear down foliage on his property without permission and then trespass on his land with heavy machinery without asking permission. Finally, the School Board itself decided to take his land through eminent domain. Oh, and the Duluth News Tribune wrote an editorial making Mr. Kuiti look like the bad guy. Nice!

Mr. Kuiti did flip Tim Grover the bird when the Board Chairman came around to look at the damage. Not Nice! But, frankly, who could blame him.

Casting 100 students adrift

Lake Superior High School which houses about 100 9-12 students is likely to close because the Duluth School District is washing its hands of the school.

I can understand the desire of the District to simplify as the consequences of the Red Plan and a dysfunctional State Budget make life hard but I don’t see anything particularly happy resulting. The story is that the 100 students at the school have mostly been in our schools and did not do well. Being in Lake Superior High kept them in school if not thriving academically. If their charter closes they will most likely end up in the Duluth Schools which will be hard pressed to give them the attention they need and they will, most of them, likely simply drop out.

I never got to know much about the charter. My last year on the School Board was 2003 when Supt Almanza asked the Board to let our district become the sponsor of the struggling school. From the beginning it was intended to serve kids who were likely to avoid or drop out of public schools and who did not have the ability to pay to attend Marshall School. Evidently these students are still struggling but according to the article they still managed to get 20 students graduated last year. I’d have to ask if ISD 709 will do any better with the remaining students.

I can’t even picture in my mind where the physical location of Lake Superior School is and soon, because of our District’s indifference and preoccupations, it won’t matter. That’s something these 100 soon to be abandoned students are probably used to by now. That’ll make it OK.

School funding on the chopping block

The Duluth District just had to borrow twenty million to keep running, something it hadn’t done, if I remember correctly, since before I was on the school board. One of the reasons for this is the state’s delaying giving school districts state aid on time. If the State delays payments for a couple months and Districts can’t pay their teachers then they have to borrow money from banks and pay interest to do it.

According to this article the recent “compromise” plan of the GOP offered to Governor Mark Dayton included delaying an additional $700 million to schools. This says that the Governor was OK with that if not to the overall compromise:

Delayed school aid payments. The accounting maneuver helped Pawlenty finish a budget in 2009, when he exercised his executive authority to push $1.2 billion in school payments into the next fiscal year. The price of balancing the state’s books this way is that schools have to wait longer for the money, and the payments must be caught up if budget surpluses return. As the current shutdown started, both sides released documents showing that Republicans had proposed delaying another $700 million in school payments, and Dayton was open to it.

No matter how the state’s budget is resolved I think we can expect it will be solved in large part on the back of school districts.

Beginning of a trend?

This story suggested to me that it could be evidence of the Red Plan’s unintended but pernicious effect on our children’s education:

Duluth ninth-graders are on par with the state average when it comes to writing.

Results of a state writing test that ninth-graders must pass to graduate were released this week. About 89 percent of the Duluth school district’s ninth-graders passed the test.

The District would choose to emphasize that its results are on a par with State results. Reading a little furthur into the articles we find that last year our ninth graders were passing the reading and writing test 3 points higher at 92%.

Year by year changes of a few percentage points aren’t that big a deal. If our rate goes up a bit next year that will be the case. However, a one year three percent change should catch our attention much like the recently announced 4 inch increase in the water level of Lake Superior.

Last year we lost over a 1,000 students. Presumably they were among the students who had the most ambitious parents and were a cut above those who remained. That could account for the drop. The drop might also be accounted for in part by demoralized teachers with more children in their classrooms. Even with a new unknown Superintendent of Schools our teacher’s morale is unlikely to improve any time soon. Their classes are getting bigger and the state is delaying payments to schools and the Red Plan is going further into the Red.

It will be a year before we begin seeing any trend. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that this was merely a one year blip.

The arrogance and ignorance of JCI

In a well thought out analysis of the disaster brought about by JCI and its kept school board in the St. Louis County Schools a Minneapolis Attorney describes 8 failures of the JCI plan. This is the last of them:

#8. If ISD 2142 does not get students from both Tower and Orr/Nett Lake into the new school, property taxes are going up – for the entire district. This will mean Orr-area residents who do not live on the reservation, and Tower residents whose children and neighbors will be going to Ely, will be looking at increased property taxes. Those taxes will be going to pay for a school that will be enrolling mostly Cook children. This is not going to go over very well.

“Nattering Nabobs of Negativism” is catchier than…

….”Doubters, defeatists and pessimists”

This letter in today’s Trib is an antidote to Dr. Dixon’s last hurrah (which I can’t find on the Trib’s online site) at the Budgeteer.

When students leave the district, Duluth’s school administrators don’t tend to investigate why. Instead, it seems they decide to spend taxpayers’ money on marketing the school district, to keep up a legacy of denial and in self-promotion. The reality is that students and their parents, like the bullying victim and her parents, want their problems acknowledged and addressed head-on.

and this:

Back when the plans to expand Ordean into the new East High School were being discussed, we voiced concerns about locating a high school adjacent to active railroad tracks. The administration’s response was that trains hardly ever ran on those tracks. The tracks run right behind our property, within four blocks of the school, and we observe trains running so frequently that the administration’s response either constituted absolute denial or complete ignorance.

I suppose that folks like the letter writers will soon be labeled by the Trib’s editors as “pessimists.”

Doubters, defeatists and pessimists long have plagued Duluth with their “it’ll never happen” declarations and, no matter how good and beneficial something might be for the community, their insistence that, “We’ll never get it done.”/blockquote>

I’d be curious to know if the taxpayers have had to pay the Trib to print all of Dr. Dixon’s self promotional columns in the Budgeteer over the past five or six years.

Good Values

Watching the news segment linked to the previous post I caught a millisecond view of a chart from a survey taken recently. Evidently it asked one question that had been asked of Duluth residents in 2007. I could be taking this out of some context but the chart asked, “Good value from investment in school”

Apparently in 2007: 74% of the responders said yes and 18% said no.
The results in 2011: 58% of the responders said yes but 35% said no.

Not a big surprise. Those are the years of the Red Plan – So far! We’ll see what the “good value” ratings are after we stick 45 kids in Advanced Placement classes.

Good for Brandon Stahl

I only got my first peak at the DNT late this afternoon and my eyes almost bugged out of my head when I saw and read their coverage of JCI’s refusal to share public data with another newspaper. Brandon Stahl did justice to the story. He also got some kudos on page two for stories he wrote about homelessness in Duluth.

The company relinquished the data, which resulted in a story showing Johnson Controls projected savings for the district would miss their mark by about $3 million, said Marshall Helmberger, the Timberjay’s editor and publisher. Helmberger said the St. Louis County School Board hired Johnson Controls based on false cost savings estimates.

Anticipating a 10% increase in enrollment

That’s what Dr. Earhart told the Glen Avon’s Presbyterian Men’s Club his Marshall School expected to see this fall. Even though Marshall’s tuition, at roughly $13,000, is half what a similar school in the Twin Cities would charge its a big sum for little Duluth. Marshall’s stunning growth can only be explained by the turmoil in the Duluth Public Schools. $13,000 is now the price of escaping from the Duluth Schools……for those who can afford it.

Wait until the goodies that the Duluth Teachers got for themselves during the School Board’s clueless contract negotiation kick in. (I’ll be working on that post when I can find some time in a week or two) Marshall can look ahead to a few more good years. The public school teachers will have a miserable experience but they will be well paid for it. 45 kids in an advance placement class. Sheesh!

Keep pumping up those last five earning years to boost your pensions DFT. Never mind the young sprouts following in your footsteps. The only thing that will keep them in the classroom after their idealism withers will be scar tissue.

P.S.Retirement can be a good life for a teacher.

I’m sure its not because we’ve emphasized bricks …

…over children.

One of the recent candidates to replace Dr. Dixon made the comment that there is something funny about the Duluth schools special education program. No kidding!

Since 2006 the district has lost almost 1,000 students but seen an increase of nearly 200 students enrolled in special education:

Enrollment………………………. 2006 ……2007…..2008…. 2009…. 2010

Public Students Enrolled .10,414 ..10,283 ..10,006 …9,772 …9,477
Public Spec Ed Students……1,338…. 1,429…. 1,481 …1,528 …1,523

Equity ll – in the State of Minnesota

I picked up the Minneapolis Trib yesterday and read a column by Steven Dornfeld. I was particularly interested in it because I based a lot of my research paper for State and Local Government class on his columns back in 1971 when I was 21 and he was a 23 year old reporter. The paper was about the “Minnesota Miracle” the nickname given a new state educational funding system that equalized funding between rich and poor school districts. (I got an A- on the paper)

Today there is an even sharper critique of the GOP controlled legislature’s determination to go back to the good old days of inequality. Its by a guy who ought to know – Dave Jennings the former Republican House leader and subsequent superintendent of the Minneapolis schools. Here’s a snippet:

There is a gap in achievement levels for poor kids. The research on the achievement gap — all of it — shows that the presence of “normal” levels of poverty in a district is manageable, but that “concentrations” of poverty overwhelm the system.

About 66 percent of students in Minneapolis schools live below the poverty line. In St. Paul, the number is 71 percent; in Duluth, it is 42 percent. With such concentrations, there are two choices: redistribute the poor kids among more school districts to reduce the concentration, or provide supplemental funding and create support systems that overcome the obstacles. Minnesota’s strategy has been option two. The three urban districts now get supplemental money for that reason.

The state’s Constitution places responsibility on the state, not the districts alone, to provide for access to equitable public education for Minnesota children — all Minnesota children. That includes addressing issues like the achievement gap in urban schools and the litany of other issues facing suburban and rural districts statewide as well.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it provide for an exemption from this responsibility when times are tough or when a new party takes control of the Legislature.

The Republicans are busy peeing down their pants or pantyhose, as the case may be, explaining that after decades of giving poor kids schools more money than rich kids schools they have determined that the poor kids still don’t do as well as the rich kids. The Republican solution is to make sure that poor kids will now get less K-12 education funding than rich kids.

God’s Own Party is adamant that fetuses have rights and should not be aborted. Too bad they don’t feel the same way about poor children.

The GOP’s death killing bureaucracy

What the Red Plan hasn’t already done to the Duluth schools No Child Left Behind surely will:

“I came to the conclusion … that No Child Left Behind has turned into a timetable for the destruction of American public education,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools — or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not — because I always knew children’s test scores are far more complicated than the way they’re being received today.”

Diane Ravitch bad mouth’s Charter Schools and I don’t entirely disagree with her. Ironically, I reluctantly became one of the biggest boosters of Duluth’s Edison Charter Schools. In the long forgotten backstory of Duluth’s Edison Schools a major chapter should be devoted to the role the Duluth Federation of Teachers played in making Edison happen and thrive.

Everything considered

I just read through the endless list of ideas, questions and wish lists that were compiled by various groups within the Duluth School System and larger community. It took a long time and despite a lot of redundancy it practically cries out for a savior. No Superintendent can hope to salve our wounds and save our schools without the help of the community. I hope our new superintendent can win over and deserve our trust. Honesty and humility will be critical. The honeymoon, if there is one, is likely to be short.

OMG, he’s a teacher!

I like this new fellow Mack’s talk about “transparency.” For goodness sake how long has it been since Dr. Dixon showed his face on one of our TV news programs? But the truly astonishing thing is that he’s not only a teacher but that after he retired from superintending he became a substitute teacher. Holy Cow! In a District fated to have very low teacher morale for the forseeable future that offers a glimmer of hope.

He also speaks two languages fluently and I’ve recently read that bilingual speakers manage to stave off dementia on average about five years longer than us poor old monolinguals.