Category Archives: Duluth Schools

Will moss grow on IV?

Sorry about the stupid title. I’m in a hurry.

I’ve already commented on the story about Duluth’s new Superintendent after his first month on the job. It covers a lot of territory but leaves the impression of a man with a lot yet to learn about his struggling district. How true. He won’t fully have a handle on the district even as early as a year from now. The story notes that he is seeking information from, among other entities, the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. That’s only natural. What he can’t yet appreciate is how incestuously the Chamber leadership has been in supporting Red Plan work which may soon be discredited. I can’t expect that the Emerald City is eager to disclose some of its horrors. IV will have to wait until he sees all its citizens recoiling in horror as the Wicked Witch of the West flies overhead spewing out the smokey warning, “Surrender IV.”

I’ve already quoted the new Super’s pragmatic and quite correct assessment that simply getting back our lost students will not solve our District’s problems. That gives me hope that Dr. Foster won’t make matters any worse.

I’m also heartened that he has made “poverty” not “race” the basis of his call to help distressed children. That he, himself, is a black American will give him some protection as he pursues this potentially controversial but necessary change of attitude.

At the moment all IV can do is hope that the Red Plan construction continues on without a hitch and completes on time with fewer cost overruns and change orders than seems likely. Moving the kids around after the next round of building completions will be exhausting for the staff and potentially dizzying for the students. In a less stressed staff this could be easily manageable. In Duluth? I don’t think so.

The most telling and, in my view, troubling part of the story was the listing of the Superintendent’s cabinet. If ever there was a group of people with lots to hide from a new superintendent I can’t imagine who they would be. From the Trib:

(The council consists of business director Bill Hanson, Assistant Superintendent Bill Gronseth, public relations director Katie Kaufman, and property and risk manager Kerry Leider.)

I have to leave in a few minutes for a meeting so I don’t have time now to offer much comment. For those who are interested in my assessment of these people, which I feel compelled to compose, you will have to wait. Until I do offer such comment you might type their individual names into the search function on this blog to see what I’ve posted about them before. You won’t find much on Gronseth. I have an impression of him but not much more. He was Dixon’s man and that hardly commends him. I have had a little more experience with Bill Hanson as my Board hired him and a lot more experience with Katie Kaufman. I have even more with Kerry Leider. I’ve called him a “liar” in this blog. Its an imprecation that I only recall conferring on one other local personality, Supt. Dixon. I like Kerry. He can’t be replaced at the moment. Poor IV.

Monday Trib reax

Its rare that I wake up to find any issue of the DNT ripe for comment let alone the sleepy Monday paper. Today is an exception but sadly I’ve got company and I’m much less interested in spending time blogging than in the past.

The Story on Charlie Bell and his senior housing development got me thinking that the right man was elected Mayor in the last election and Charlie and Duluth are lucky that he has focused on senior housing rather than everything under the sun which is the Mayor’s lot. I think Ness has done a better than creditible job which seems to be demonstrated in his free ride campaign which leaves him without a challenger in November.

Both Ness and Bell have bent over backward not to make people mad at them (something our politicians in the Beltway could learn from) but I think Ness is the more cunning of the two. In the case of the Red Plan I would have preferred the Mayor take a harsher view of our old superintendent but practically I realize he was not in the best position to tackle Dixon. He had other fish to fry and really only time would reveal whether Duluth had been taken in. With five schools soon to open I think Dixon’s depredations are closer to being revealed. Still, there wasn’t much the Mayor could do because the School Board had such a head start. Some Duluthians have caught on and Betty Maarsa has pretty well pointed out the District’s dilemma in her letter to the editor of which I will quote but a portion.

Operating money follows students who leave the Duluth district. Up to $5,000 multiplied by those approximately 2,000 students equals $10 million, and an operating budget shortfall. According to the New York Times, Kansas City had to close 28 schools in March 2010 because of a lack of operating funds due to a mass exodus to schools in the suburbs and charter schools. No one listened. I was told by a Duluth school administrator, “They’ll come back” You better hope so! I heard from a teacher there may be 40 students in an honors math class this fall at beautiful, 21st century Denfeld. Doesn’t sound very inviting to lost students, does it?

Even the Trib seems to be catching on. In their story on Dixon’s unfortunate successor I V Foster he explains and they paraphase the impossible situation he is in:

As for recruitment of students back into the district to gain more state money), even if we went out and got 500 students back into the schools, that doesn’t translate into enough money to go out and hire enough teachers and provide a quality learning experience for them.

I’ll have more to say about the Foster story in my next post but lets go on to the DNT’s fine editorial about “transparancy.” Regarding the school district’s web page the Trib has this to say:

The state’s website earned a “The state’s 10 largest school districts and five largest cities also earned B’s,” while the state’s five largest counties scored “mediocre grade,” according to a statement released by the group.

Closer to home, the Duluth school district received a “C,” with red check marks, meaning “information was not provided,” for taxes, contracts, public records and background checks. The district provided adequate information, the analysis found, on budgets, meetings, elected officials, administrative officials, audits and academics.

Considering who serves on the new Superintendents “cabinet” I wouldn’t expect any improvements to the website anytime soon. Which gets me to wondering if the school district is still paying Howie Hanson pay off money for his addition to the District’s Internet web presence.

Do Trib editors ever do the math?

I only ask because their glowing endorsement of Dr. Foster has some intriguing numbers, to wit:

Dr. Foster’s Illinois district had a reported 3,200 students and 415 staff.

The Duluth District has 9,000 students and 2,000 staff.

The math I have in mind is long division, something I had difficulty with in the fifth grade. Thank God for hand calculators.

In Illinois Dr. Foster had 3,200 students divided by 415 staff or 7.7 children per public employees.

In Duluth Dr. Foster has 9,000 students divided by 2,000 staff or 4.5 children per public employee.

There’s a bit of a discrepancy here. I wonder at the implications. Did the Trib editorial Board notice?

I think this discrepency takes on even more significance since Dr. Foster has previously expressed concern about Duluth’s very large class sizes.

“Foster said one concern he sees already is the high numbers of class sizes in the district and their effect on student’s learning.”

Considering we have a lot fewer children per staff member this must indeed be very puzzling to him. I’m puzzled by it too.

No mea culpa from the Trib yet…

…for its six year effort to turn a blind eye toward Red Plan related worms.

But, at least they are giving the new guy who replaced Dixon an early honeymoon. I V’s going to have to live with Dixon’s folly.

Duluth’s new school superintendent, I.V. Foster, set a refreshing and encouraging tone this month at his very first School Board meeting. He emphasized improving student academic performance and he talked about directing resources toward narrowing the achievement gap, increasing graduation rates and reducing dropouts.

In other words, after years of angst and controversy over buildings, let’s return our focus to classrooms and to the success of all students.

Those “resources” will not include the $5 million annually that the Red Plan requires from school operations to pay for the Red Plan building bonds. If the voters haven’t recovered their good humor by a November referendum he won’t have any additional operational levy money either. We’ll see whether the Trib ends up tar and feathering Dr. Foster over Dixon’s legacy. God forbid they take any responsibility for it.

Good hearing is a blessing

I wonder if Mr. Frisk was expecting a phone call while sitting in on the Burn Gary Glass School Board meeting. He says in Area Voices that what I saw him with was a bluetooth which is sort of like a non denial for a man who claimed to have heard every thing I said from across a very large room with exceedingly poor acoustics.

And surprise, surprise. Bluetooth add-ons are advertised all over the web as spy devices.

I wouldn’t have known this if a friend hadn’t emailed me this note today:

Hello Harry,

I just was reading your blog on Frisk and wasn’t sure if you follow the area voices blog but Frisk has been posting in response. He seems more popular on this particular article for some reason. In any event, I think you will enjoy the back & forth. Like Goossens, Frisk will have a difficult time hiding the kind of person he truly is. It is interesting to see mention of the hearing device and his response. I have since then gone online and there are “apps” to make your Bluetooth actually amplify & record .
Here is just one of them
http://www.gadgettown.com/Spy-Listening-Device-Bluetooth-Caller-ID-Headset.html
Or
https://www.silversonicxl.com/?mid=998727
Or there are a ton others that work through a Bluetooth.

They work with a Bluetooth headset and so technically he isn’t lying when he says that it is a blue tooth, but it certainly is amplifying so he can hear others conversations.

And I agree. It would be scary to have this guy on the Board sitting beside Ann W –

I should give Mr. Frisk points for flattering me by telling his critic to take an allegation to the police. Of course, when I suggested that Mr. Frisk go to the “authorities” he really did.

I’m not so impressed with Mr. Frisk’s lofty observation that if he had been eavesdropping and been caught at it he would likely spend most of his school board term in jail. It sounds very much like the kind of foot stomping “Aha” arguments I recall him using in the irate emails he sent me. If you could go to jail for amplifying your bluetooth’s hearing all the suckers who were buying spy apps online would be putting themselves in jeopardy.

4-day-school-week, coming soon to a school….

… make that already here at a school near you.

This is an important story because I think the people in Duluth will be looking at a 4 day week soon too. Its not a horror story by any means. The Survey probably does reflect the views of Two Harbors. A majority of folks approve of the change.

In no particular order here are my observations.

1. Its a terrible thing that a gamble like this had to take place because of the School District’s fiscal disaster.

2. A change like this could only have taken place because of a fiscal disaster. Call this change as a reaction to necessity or “necessity is the Mother of invention.”

3. Having school five days a week is in large part a result of our society’s need for child management five days a week. In some ways its glorified babysitting. Most people work five days a week both Mothers and Fathers now days. Unsupervised kids get hurt, killed and pregnant. Because the school day has proven to be too short for the parents’ work day American schools have added a special after school daycare system called school sports to its portfolio.

4. Two Harbors discovery that a long school day can sharpen a lot of kids is not that big a surprise. Real learning requires some intellectual engagement by the student. The system in most schools like Duluth, at least in the secondary grades, is a series of 50 minute classes by subject of which 20% of the time is wasted on getting organized. If you are studying the Civil War or calculus or French that’s barely enough time to get your engines revving and then you have to put your books away. Two Harbors from necessity is altering this pattern probably for the better.

5. How about that three day weekend? By the time I was a junior in college I got to put my school week together at class registration. I can’t tell you how much I and many of my classmates enjoyed creating a four-day week with Friday (usually) off. A five day week can be a grind, a mind numbing grind. Ask anyone who works five days a week at a job! With their four day school week Two Harbors’ kids get to turn off that grind and for many, I suspect, that results in better focus during the official learning portion of the week.

6. Two Harbors went to a 4 day week to save money. They have saved it but not quite as much as they had hoped. They’ve saved $216,000 annually not $250,000. Most of the savings was expected to come from buying less fuel to bus children. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, diesel prices went up more than expected.

7. As with the Duluth district’s poorly thought out Red Plan transition the four day week at Two Harbors has forced everyone to experiment to make it work. For Two Harbors that has resulted in a burst of creativity and even enthusiasm. Although that does not yet seem to be a major factor in Duluth’s Red Plan there is hope for us in the Two Harbors’ example. I’d say that such hope should be tempered with the recognition that school leaders in denial or wearing blinders about or making excuses for past blunders are the wrong people to be making such a change or taking such a calculated risk.

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, *******

Three last minute SB filings

The Duluth School Board race just got more interesting yesterday in the last day of filings.

All the races are contested. My old 2nd District seat pits incumbent Judy Seliga-Punyko against the Red Plan critic, Loren Martell, that her board had handcuffed when he had the temerity to quote Chairman Tim Grover’s campaign rhetoric. My God! Who can blame Tim? I’d have anyone who quoted my blog back to me at a public meeting put in cuffs to! Oh wait…….No, I don’t think I would.

Meanwhile in the 3rd District Race which sees the handcuffer, Grover, retiring former Denfeld principal and apparent Red Plan enthusiast, Bill Westholm, has filed. He will be challenged by Jon Donahue a candidate from the epicenter of the District’s mass student exodus, Piedmont Heights. Mr. Donahue still has three children in the Duluth Schools despite the Exodus. A self described “whistle-blower” he works with the nonprofit PAC community television.

Finally the At-large seat being abandoned by Gary Glass has three contenders. They include Mike Miernicki, a former Duluth East Activities Director; Ryan Stauber a former candidate for the legislature, son of City Councilor Jim Stauber and a school mate of my son; and lastly Doug Frisk who I was about to feature in one of my Thugs for Better Schools posts. I hadn’t planned to name him but seeing as how he has decided to file for the School Board I see little point in keeping his activities or previous threats against me anonymous.

Thugs for Better Schools I

A couple weeks ago I had coffee with a fellow I hoped to recruit for a School Board run. He’s a professional who wrote an article critical of the Red Plan’s management and the contract provisions which gave JCI big money and little incentive to do the public’s bidding.

He now works for the City and reminded me that just after he had started work the Chamber of Commerce tried to get him fired.

The villain in this story is a former student of mine the upbeat and charming Andy Peterson. Andy and I always got along well. He had been in my classes years ago when I taught in Proctor. I was a disaster in those years but Andy recalled me with some charity for which I was grateful.

I ran across Andy ten years ago when he was the industrious brains and legs behind a West End business group. He recruited me to build snow sculptures in West Duluth for a few years before he started work at the Chamber which quickly put him to work in politics to strong arm politicians. I was chagrined to run across folks who had little use for him.

Perhaps the lowest thing he did was go the city to ask who in the Hell had hired a Red Plan critic and encouraging them to fire the same. I don’t blame the fellow I had coffee with for deciding that running for the School Board might be a tad too nasty for his taste. He still had his job.

By now I’ve put together quite a little catalogue of similar actions by the Red Planners. Too bad they didn’t put more of their industry into our schools but I guess that’s hard to do when presented with such a gravy train.

While the Trib points fingers at dim witted pols in St. Paul…

…they have a hard time doing the same to Duluth’s School Board members.

However, a High School student at last year’s combined Central/Denfeld isn’t impressed with the their handiwork.

Andrew Laughlin’s piece was a little fuzzy about what took place and whose fault it was. He did say that heroic efforts to blend the two student bodies were attempted. The Principal got a pat on the back but not so much the teachers. Perhaps that is because their morale was so tattered and they were so overworked. In any event it was clear Mr. Laughlin felt the press attempted to paper over the disconcerting reality.

“While the media offered reports of a silky smooth merger, the reality was a transition rougher than Duluth’s roads. Central’s halls were filled with a resounding disrespect among students, especially toward students from the other school.”

I lay the blame at Dr. Dixon’s feet. I lay the blame at his loyalists who turned a blind eye to any hint of mismanagment. Its depressing when the rumor mills seem to carry more truth than reports from our city’s journalists. Read the previous post lifted from the latest Reader Weekly in its entirety if you want to really appreciate the MO of the Superintendent who must not be named…….except in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, where, like Voldmort, he has retreated until his horcruxes are destroyed.

Its way past time to get Lucius Malfoy and Belatrix LeStrange off the School Board.

PS. I can’t vouch for having gotten Art Johnston’s text inserted spot on. Pay my typos no mind. His piece is devastating and in the Reader Weekly not the Duluth News Tribune where Art, no doubt, expected that it would have been edited out of recognition.

I can’t wait to see Judy’s, no check that, Katie Kaufman’s reply.

Left behind

Re: Lake Superior High School. This is an email sent to each of our Duluth School Board members:

Hello, my name is ____ _______. I am a parent of a student enrolled in Lake Superior High School, Duluth. I believe, from personal experiences, that it would be in the best interest of the community for LSHS to stay open to educate our “at risk” youth. My son, _________, was a student as ______ HS for 1 and 1/2 school years, and DEFINITELY was NOT going to succeed in high school as a result of quite a few factors. Up until 9th grade, ________ was a merrit/honor roll student and when it came time for High School, he went to the opposite side of the spectrum. The only thing that was giving him any hope, was the understanding and 1/1 of the teachers and administrators at LSHS once we made the transfer. I feel Duluth NEEDS a school where the “at risk” students can get the attention that they deserve and the understanding that they need! I know personally that my son does not want to change schools in the fall and there is a very good chance that he will NOT transfer; therefore, he will not graduate from high school…..he will be “left behind”!

Save a Reader for me

A friend sent an email patting Board member Art Johnston on the back for writing something “brilliant” about the backroom dealings in the District regarding hockey. I had no idea to what she was referring and sent her an inquiry about what she was commenting on. Evidently he wrote something for the latest version of the Reader Weekly. I’ll be leaving town in the morning so I may not get a chance to read it any time soon. Someone make sure to save a copy for me.

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.

No decision yet

I think I’m over my short lived kinder and gentler phase. It was nice while it lasted. I’m listening to another NPR story about the “Hell No” caucus. The hellish Tea Party caucus is currently calling President Obama, Mitch McConnell and Cong Bonehead liars for saying America’s default on the debt will cause pain. Hell no. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has assured the Tea Party that the surest way to destroy America is to pay our debts by raising taxes on the rich. No wonder I’m getting dyspeptic.

I got an enquiring email from Jana Hollingsworth, the DNT’s only remaining education reporter, asking me (after all my dithering on the blog) whether I’ve decided to run for the School Board again. Here’s what I wrote back:

Hi Jana,

No decision yet. I’ve decided that I would only file for the JSP seat but only if no one else files. Is Tuesday the last day for filing? Should I file I don’t plan to campaign. I think there will be another person filing for that office.

I figured that not much happened at the meeting but you know me and my blog. I take every opportunity to poke my finger in the DNT’s ribs.
Harry

The last sentence/paragraph referred to the picture of our news superintendent at his first meeting of the School Board. There was only a caption under the picture but no story. Jana explained to me that because nothing happened at the meeting her editors decided it was only worth noting that Dr. Foster had appeared at his first school board meeting.

Putting Red Plan blame on special education students

I talked with Loren Martell over the weekend. He’s thinking about filing for the School Board. Good for him. When Gary Glass retires we may have a replacement who also pays attention.

Loren noticed that JCI said a six lane swimming pool would cost us something like five million in its estimates. Now the District is claiming that two count-em two EIGHT LANE pools are only costing six million to build. Like an economist Kerry Leider, the District’s building manager, keeps redefining what the expenses mean. That could be because the District is desperate to reelect its Red Plan champion Judy Seliga-Punyko.

You see Judy was the head of the swimming pool committee that lobbied after the Red Plan and its costs had already been fixed for a second pool and two pools with eight not six lanes. That’s a bit awkward now that the School Board has voted to add another fifteen million to the cost of the Red as well as voting not to put this additional Red Plan cost up for a public vote.

How much of that fifteen million Red Plan addition is Judy’s doing for having added ten more swimming lanes to the Red Plan’s costs? Maybe her husband will find a student to explain how you can build six swimming lanes for five million but sixteen swimming lanes for a mere one million extra. That’s just one more Red Plan bargain….No, excuse me, I mean miracle.

This is only the annoying part of the story. The disgusting part is that the District has put the blame for the extra cost on parents of special education students. The District says they lobbied for more Red Plan spending for disabled children.