East against West Pt 1 Stained Glass

God is giving me this wonderful weather. That’s a pretty remarkable thing for an avowed agnostic to say but it’s how I’ve felt for the past two weeks as I’ve gone door to door passing out flyers for my candidates. Today, Monday, will be the same. I got out of bed at 2:30AM and checked the sky for Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Astro Bob wrote that I’ll get a good chance to see them along with Mercury while standing on the fifth member of the inner planets in a couple hours. I can see them because its not overcast, meaning I’ll have another sunny day to feverishly go door to door. I’m not the only one doing this. Loren Martell has done the same. I think he will be rewarded by voters pleased to see a candidate out on the hustings fighting for their vote. Certainly he tells me that, after discovering he lived in the Third District which is largely the Denfeld and Lincoln Park attendance area these residents and voters are as feverish to see justice done as he is. Some background.

I came to Duluth 41 years ago thinking my future lay in politics. To that end I needed to study this city and I never let any scrap of information about Duluth get past me unread. When I had a chat with Greg Fox a couple weeks ago up at the Kirby Ballroom on UMD I was pretty certain that he had in mind the same long Tribune story I had read a few years after arriving in town.

Like many others who are movers and shakers in Duluth Greg, the long time Number 2 administrator at UMD was a Denfeld grad. I made a biting comment about Denfeld’s fate and I saw him narrow his eyes and launch into the story this Tribune article told. It was about Duluth’s demographics. It explained, as Greg explained to me, how the ambitious students in eastern Duluth had for years left town to pursue college never to return while up and coming Denfeld Graduates moved to East Duluth and stayed in town to run it. I suspect I clipped this old article and saved it but, if so, I know not where I might have filed it away.

I’ll stop the history here but come back to it in a later post. What I woke up thinking about this morning is the unpleasant possibility that Denfeld could be abandoned like some ghetto school. Its what I hinted strongly at two years ago when I talked about gangrene spreading from west to east.

The great irony to me is that some of the most loyal Denfeld Alumni seem blind to this possible fate. The Superintendent of Schools is a “Hunter” who graduated in about 1987 just as my teaching career in Duluth came to an end. Long time Denfeld principal, Bill Westholm, has served on the Board for the past four years as has his best buddy, Mike Miernicki, who was an upperclassman when Bill arrived at Denfeld in the early 1960’s.

Denfeld has a rich tradition. It has taken the children of the west’s blue collar workers and given them a fine education. It has an endowment to help send its students on to college with scholarships that is without an equal in Minnesota. It may the the second richest such endowment in the nation. But, Denfeld’s course offerings are badly compromised today. This is an unintended consequence of the Red Plan and its failure to equally divide students between the eastern and western halves of Duluth.

That division was to have been made along 14th Avenue East. It ended up being 6th Avenue East and amazingly our Superintendent wasn’t aware of this when I rejoined the School Board. I’m not sure just how the division was pushed back to 6th Avenue by Dr. Dixon but I suspect it has something to do with the geographic fact that the East Hillside is chock full of free and reduced lunch students.. Had they been sent west to Denfeld that would have made the already overwhelmingly poor student population of Denfeld just that much more disproportionate. Currently sixty percent of Denfeld’s students are free and reduced lunch compared to East’s 25 percent. Had East Hillside kids been sent to Denfeld to make for more equal populations I suspect the ratios would have been more like 75 percent free and reduced in Denfeld to 15 percent free and reduced in East. Rather than do this the Red Planners simply allowed East’s enrollment to soar beyond Denfeld’s.

But as we have heard in numerous opinion pieces from Denfeld’s parents and students this does not permit equal learning opportunities for eastern and western high schools. It is troubling that despite the evidence of this the Superintendent, Bill Westholm and Mike Miernicki all nod their heads in assurance that Denfeld students are being treated fairly.

Art Johnston recently requested the master schedules for the classes at both high schools. He has taken to putting his requests for data in the form of a legal demand of late. He rarely gets what he requests and I have a file of the requests that have been ignored. It took a week or to for Art to get the master schedules but Alanna Oswald beat him to the punch. She got the information in about two days and sat down and poured through the information. This is the sort of initiative and insight that Alanna brings to the table and helps explain my eagerness to have her join the Duluth School Board.

Alanna has asked me not to share her entire analysis of the differences found between the 900 Denfeld students and the 1600 East Students until she speaks at a candidate’s forum for the League of Women Voters. BTW p half of our local League are former members of the Duluth School Board…..that was a joke…..sort of.

Alanna asks a few simple questions in her email and puncutates it with an equally important observation:

The question is: why is it so difficult for the seven people who are in charge of making decisions about the education of our children to get that information …. The public holds the school board accountable for what goes on inside the schools, yet the school board isn’t entitled to the information our parents get?

And people wonder why there is so much contention on the board. Some board members don’t even know what they don’t know about our schools!

Alanna did give me permission to explain some of the differences she has already mentioned at another candidate forums. Here’s one small example about a fine art’s class – stained glass windows. East has three sections of the popular class. Denfeld has one. You might recall a news story from last Spring about Denfeld students who made stained glass windows for their favorite organizations. Sadly, this year’s Denfeld class is being taught by a newly hired teacher who knows nothing about making Stained Glass. I’m not sure if Denfeld’s students will learn the craft this year.

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