Wednesday, January 14, 2009

281 RAS Facility Update

I attended the District 281 Facility Planning Citizen feedback meeting last night. There was a super turn out of parents and teachers from within the district. (make up ~20% of RAS citizens) There were very few representing the viewpoints of the 80% of RAS citizens that do not have kids in school. The vast majority of people were from Sunny Hollow, Pilgrim Lane and Lakeview elementary schools. (ie facing closure as community schools, kids will be moved...)

100+ people certainly spoke their thoughts. (the good, the bad & the ugly):
  • The vast majority were praising their schools /teachers and asking the Board to not disrupt a great thing by closing their schools.
  • Another theme that came up several times was the "we may not pass the levy next time" or "we will move our kids to another district" threats.
  • There were a few asking for additional programs to be funded with the potential savings.
  • There were a few concerned about "what happened to mid school Spanish Immersion"
  • The folks who praised the Board for taking on this tough task and encouraged them to make a decision quickly, so the savings can be realized in 09/10 and the parents/students can start moving forward. (these were my favorites)
The best thing of sitting through it was that it helped me put a "human" face to a logistical problem. The most touching was a mother with an autistic daughter who has finally started being verbal, and the mother's fear that the daughter will regress if her school situation is disrupted.

Here are some of my general thoughts regarding the plan/process:
  • the SW folks are the greatest flight risk (can afford to and have option of same/better schools just across the border)
  • the NW schools pull more open enrollees into the district since the schools to the North/East are in even worse shape. (funding, poverty, etc)
  • Trading Mpls & Brooklyn Center kids for Golden Valley & New Hope kids.... Good idea ?
  • Sunny Hollow & Pilgrim Ln are ideally situated to be community schools.
  • Sunny Hollow & Pilgrim Ln have a very active community volunteer & fund raising base.
  • Northport and Lakeview seem to have a limited community volunteer & fund raising base.
  • Should the district disengage these core volunteer bases?
  • If the Northport and Lakeview kids moved into RMS, would the Spanish Immersion volunteer and fund raising base help to support and encourage the "whole school" or just their clique?
  • Parents often worry about stability for their kids. From what I have seen and experienced, it seems the kids adjust pretty quickly. (ie just a new classroom/teacher, another new thing to learn, change is normal...) The parents however seem to find it challenging and often "wind up" their kids.
  • Northport & Lakeview will require a lot more capital to renovate. Where will this come from?
  • Smaller elementary schools with K-6 have too few classes by grade to stabilize their class sizes. 3 classes of 22 can jump to 2 classes of 30 with a minor shift in enrollment.
  • I hope the Board puts any extra savings into the reserve instead of offering more programs. (correct choice given risk of flat or declining state funding)
  • I hope Board puts the ESC & Bus garage into the facility plan. If not, it is not much of a facility plan.
  • Final thought: Thank Heavens I am not a Board member !!!


Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner said...

Hi, John. Thanks for the summary of the meeting, I wasn't able to make it. Wow...this is tough. And, yeah, it makes me glad I'm not a board member right now.

I'm getting questions and comments regarding the levy in the vein of "how can we be talking about closing schools when we just passed a referendum." The board and administration never hid that this day was coming sooner rather than later. And the bitter pill to swallow is that changing our building configuration appears by all accounts to be the most fiscally responsible thing to do. Once this is all over I'd like to see us get back to the discussion of the bigger picture of what it means to offer high-quality educational opportunities throughout the district. That's bigger than a good school here, strong volunteer base there. There is something truly inherently wrong, I think, with how we are handling education in this country. We're behind the times, stuck in outdated paradigms, and very human in that it's extremely difficult to see the good of "the commons" as in our own self interest when it means giving up something we like.

Ahh...not much said there, perhaps, but what's on my mind as we navigate this interesting times in our district. Thanks for keeping the torch alive.


John said...

What are some of the paradigms that you feel should broken? Just curious. John

Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner said...

Some examples:

Calendar (having a three-month break is no longer appropriate);
Age-separated classrooms;
Isolating students in buildings away from their communities;
"Fairness" vs. justice, balance, equity;
Teaching the vast majority of teachers to teach from the time they graduate from high school rather than recruiting some later in their careers and paying a salary that makes the crossover reasonable;
Hours that don't match with the hours that parents work thus requiring after-school care that is not nearly as well integrated as it could be (e.g., we need to think about longer days with more integration of formal and informal learning opportunities);
Running kids through lunch rooms and recess like they are cattle rather than valuing all the parts of the day as opportunities to learn how to function as contributing citizens (e.g., people with manners, good health habits, etc.)
Adolescence as a whole ought to be rethought in terms of how we engage young people in our civic life and school is the place we would start.'s January and I have my thinking cap on. I'm afraid I cannot elaborate more than this right now. Will try to fill in some of the blanks as the conversation progresses. As I am sure it will.