PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD AND ALTERED THE TITLE TO FIT THE STORY BETTER.
Brenda Casselius acted swiftly. Here is her email reply to Alanna:
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It is concerning on so many levels. I will meet with my staff first thing in the morning on next steps.
All standards must be taught, however local school districts determine their curriculum to implement the standards. There are many other requirements for art, PE and other subjects.
I will be meeting with asst commissioner Steve Dibb, Beth Aune our Director of Standards and will be in touch by the end of the week.
Again, thank you for bringing this to my attention and for giving me the opportunity to address it.
“Concerning on so many levels.” That just about sums it up.
This problem had its origin in the financial pinch caused by the Red Plan. Then Superintendent Dixon and his Board solved the problem by gutting the District’s Curriculum Department and sacking its Director. By the time Alanna wrote to the Commissioner the School District’s curriculum was a decade out of date and no longer in compliance with state expectations. How much this or the higgledy piggledy of moving kids around played a part in the test scores will never be known but they were brutal for Laura MacArthur. Laura Mac’s student test results were in the bottom 5 percent of state test scores. As a result the MDE brought a million dollarsof state funding to raise students test scores. Everyone was giddy with the resulting improvement in those scores but they came at a cost.
The hoopla was muted when Alanna alerted the state that Laura Mac’s success came at the expense of its curriculum. This discovery threatened to embarrass not only ISD 709 but the MDE as well. I heard education experts on Minnesota Public Radio gush about Laura Mac’s astonishing results in a statewide broadcast. Had word had gotten out that the test scores skyrocketed by by not teaching half the state mandated curriculum the MDE would have been a laughing stock.
This issue surfaced during my campaign in 2013 but it didn’t really reach the School Board until March 2014. My general reaction was patient restraint. I know how much pressure is put on school districts to do the impossible and to do it yesterday. Laura Mac’s intense focus on reading made sense. Without the ability to read there is little point in continued schooling. But while skipping science and social studies may have helped children who had fallen behind it was an injustice for students like Alanna’s daughter. It was worrying enough that I asked the Superintendent to meet me at Dunn Brothers on his free Saturday to explain what had happened.
The Superintendent was adamant. He assured me that if Laura Mac’s principal had done such a thing the principal would have been told that he and the District would “have to part ways.” The sober threat Mr. Gronseth laid out left little doubt of the situation’s gravity.
I frankly thought the Superintendent was rather harsh considering that it had been an emergency. I told Art about the Superintendent’s comments afterward and he was surprised as well because the principal was one of the few who seemed to like Art’s company.
And Laura Mac’s example wasn’t exactly failure. Children, though often bored like Alanna’s daughter did achieve stellar results. I would say of what happened that it was a good learning opportunity. I also told Alanna that I wasn’t worried about her daughter being short changed in the long run. At worst it was a one year detour and her home’s emphasis on education would win out in the end.
And because of Alanna not only did the full curriculum return to the schools or at least to Laura Mac but the Duluth schools embarked on an aggressive project to bring the District’s curriculum into compliance with state standards after a ten year wait. Alanna’s good deed was bearing fruit.