Sunday, December 28, 2014

Homeless Resources for School Board Members

The recent commencement of a homeless grant program by LEAF, the local school district foundation  is a reminder to all of us that St. Cloud has not been immune to the significant rise in homeless across the country.   When the McKinney-Vento Act was reauthorized in 2001, national statistics showed that over one million children and youth were likely to experience homelessness in a given year and that extreme poverty, coupled with high mobility and loss of housing, placed these children at great risk for educational challenges.  

Here in St. Cloud efforts have begun to create a "continuum of care" that brings the community efforts to address homelessness.   See for example the July 2014 article in the St. Cloud Times.  According to the Times, The Wilder Foundation estimated that the number of homeless people in Central Minnesota, according is 605.  School aged children frequently experience homelessness.  Approximately  325 children in 2013 experienced homelessness, and the Salvation Army alone housed 195 children.

Each of us has our own window on what we think causes homelessness and what we think should be done to address homelessness.   Although I've been involved professionally with homelessness issues for decades, as an  attorney for a housing authority, as an advocate for low income tenants and welfare recipients, as a tenants rights advocate,   I've learned that its important to approach the issue with a high degree of humility.  I've used the recent attention to this problem as a stimulus to read the resource material now available on this topic and re-educate myself on the nature of the problem and the tools now available to school districts better to serve students.   I've said, "hey Jerry, before you form final opinions, take another look at the training material.    None of us has a monopoly on wisdom."  There are some really dedicated caring people of all political and religious stripes:  social workers, homeless advocates, public housing authorities, legal services professionals, non-profits such as Salvation Army, Anna Marie's, United Way, Catholic Charities, the Childrens Law Center, Childrens Defense Fund, to name a few.

One of the things that it is extremely important to remember is that families lose their homes for a variety of reasons, and that they face emergent homelessness for a panoply of reasons.   There is no one face of homelessness and no one approach that works for all families.  

For school districts, the responsibilities are set out first and foremost by the McKinney-Vento act, named after two Congressmen who worked tirelessly to make housing and serving the homeless a national priority.    The McKinney-Vento Act requires each state and each school district to develop policies and strategies to address the educational needs of homeless students and their families.   It is for this reason that our school district has adopted a template policy recommended by the Minnesota School Boards Association, designated as District 742 Policy 557  Homeless Students:  
The Board recognizes that maintaining school of origin enrollment and a regular, mainstream environment has a positive impact on the academic achievement of students in homeless situations. The primary goals of the District 742 Homeless Education Program are to facilitate enrollment, attendance, and academic success for students who are homeless. All services provided to homeless students will be in accordance with the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The McKinney-Vento Act contains a number of requirements for school districts such as ours.  It requires us to have a homeless liaison, who can be a part-time or full time employee, to assure that the rest of us in public education--teachers, principals, support staff, boards of education and superintendents -- meet the law's requirements.   Among the  basic requirements of the statute and its implementing policies include (a) that students who are homeless should not be forced to change schools as a result of losing their home, (b) that students receive the full panoply of educational services without interruption, including transportation, educational opportunities, meals, and other services (c) and that homeless families not be stigmitized as a result of their temporary or permanent homelessness.   This latter provisions discourages districts from identifying students publicly as homeless; discourages calling them "homeless" students even, and requires that their privacy be scrupulously observed.  

There are a number of other programs that are available to meet the needs of homeless students.  Special education must serve homeless students with disabilities to the same extent and without regard to their housing crisis.   Title I has a variety of funding sources for students, but Title I expects that other specific programs will be exhausted before invading Title I funds.   There are wrap around services for foster children designed to assure that students who are experiencing homelessness or repeated changes in residence should be afforded continuous quality public education.

Here are some resources that I found really helpful in re-educating myself on the educational aspects of homelessness.  You can click on the links in the text to get more information.

Helping Homeless Students  Principals have unique opportunities and a legal responsibility to assist homeless students and protect their rights in school.  National Association of School Principals, 2004  Addressing the needs of homeless youth is required by law through the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, currently known as the McKinney-Vento Act. This federal law entitles homeless children to a free and appropriate education and states that schools must eliminate barriers to enrollment, attendance, and success in school for homeless students. Further, the act obligates schools to appoint a liaison to work with homeless students and their families and serve as a resource for educators. In December 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Act. This 2001 re-authorization required school districts to keep homeless students in their "schools of origin" and, to the extent possible, provide transportation to and from school. Homeless students are also immediately eligible for free meals and access to educational services that are comparable to any student in the district.


National Center for Homeless Education  NCHE operates the U.S. Department of Education's technical assistance and information center for the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program.

School Homeless Liasons  (NCHE Publication) Local homeless education liaisons are Local Educational Agency (LEA) staff responsible for ensuring the identification, school enrollment, attendance, and opportunities for academic success of students in homeless situations. Some of these activities may be performed by the local liaison himself or herself, while others are accomplished by coordinating the efforts of other staff

NCHE Homeless Liason Toolkit  Lots of specific information the activities of school homeless liasons.

Collaboration of Schools and Social Services Agencies  In the past two decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of homeless students enrolled in US schools. Overwhelmed school personnel lack adequate resources and skills to success fully address the myriad of challenges – especially those outside the scope of academics – faced by homeless child ren. Issues like hunger, inadequate housing, poor health care, emotional difficulties, domestic violence, and family substance abuse among others have prompted educators to look increasingly toward collaborations with social service agencies as a possible solution. ....

Unfortunately, the needs of homeless children are so pressing that those who work in this arena often do not have the time or energy to establish collaborations. It is simpler to respond with resources that are convenient although inadequate than spend the time and effort required to work with another bureaucracy (Stronge & Reed-Victor, 2000). Staff memb ers from schools, school districts, and community agencies are hesitant to collaborate with those outside their own walls due to “administrative burdens and turf question s” (Verstegen, 1996, p. 285). They have different foci that have caused past difficulty in working relationships and few mechanisms exist to support successful collaboration between the two systems (Altshuler, 2003).

Kids Connection, a Program of St. Louis Park Perspectives.  Model program which seeks a coordinated approach centered on an experienced provider of services.  "Our goal is to unlock the potential for homeless and at-risk children by providing mental health, academic, nutritional and social skills programming and services. Target Population: Homeless and at-risk children, kindergarten through eighth grade, on the free/reduced lunch program, living within the St. Louis Park School District. Program Summary: Kids Connection is a comprehensive “extended-day academic environment” taught by five licensed teachers and over 50 trained volunteers."

McKinney Vento School Requirements:  From the statute itself:

For the State to be eligible under subparagraph (B) to receive funds under this part, the school described in such subparagraph shall—
 (i) provide written notice, at the time any child or youth seeks enrollment in such school, and at least twice annually while the child or youth is enrolled in such school, to the parent or guardian of the child or youth (or, in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the youth) that—
 (I) shall be signed by the parent or guardian (or, in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the youth);
 (II) sets forth the general rights provided under this part;
 (III) specifically states—
 (aa) the choice of schools homeless children and youths are eligible to attend, as provided in subsection (g)(3)(A) of this section;
 (bb) that no homeless child or youth is required to attend a separate school for homeless children or youths;
 (cc) that homeless children and youths shall be provided comparable services described in subsection (g)(4) of this section, including transportation services, educational services, and meals through school meals programs; and
 (dd) that homeless children and youths should not be stigmatized by school personnel; 

Childrens Law Center Resources.   Minnesota's legal advocacy organization for foster children.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Consensus Required to Build New Tech High

I  posted the picture below as a  symbol of the benefit of building community consensus and overcoming our differences when we undertake a great venture.  It pictures the new donor wall honoring community donors to the new High School at Alexandria (picture credit to Cunningham Group, our new high school architect.)  Great things can happen when a community comes together for a higher purpose, when we put aside individual demands and instead develop consensus.   

Civic leaders contribute to Alexandria High School

By arriving at a community-wide consensus, Alexandria was able to unite around a brand new high school that makes the entire community proud.  The leaders of the community chose not to tear the community apart over their disagreements, but rather united and actually raised $5 million in donations, to make their high school even better.    Great things can happen, when a community unites and suppresses the urge to say "if we don't do it my way, we can't do it at all."  When community leaders demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of their community, we are capable of great things.  When we seek instead to impose our individual will, we fail.   Alexandria chose to build a brand new high school.   We may take the same course, or renovate old Technical High school.  Whichever course we take, we need to arrive at our decision through consensus building, and once that consensus is formed, we must find a way to bring the community together around that decision. 
Schematic of Alexandria High School
In other words, as our district comes to grips with critical controversial decisions regarding replacing Technical High School (or renovating it), we can't possibly succeed, if everyone insists on getting their way. How can we do that?  With a good will and a focus on our mission.   Our mission statement tells us to put education of children first and foremost: 

District 742 is dedicated to the mission: to create a safe and caring climate and culture in which we prepare, engage, educate, empower, and inspire all learners in partnership with their surrounding community to be successful in today’s and tomorrow’s society.

As we step through the various decisions which must be made, our mission statement calls upon us to make decisions based on what best prepares, engages, educates, empowers and inspires be successful in today's and tomorrow's society.    Everything is subservient to that mission. 

And, our Core Values remind us that:  

We all benefit when communities work together toward common goals.

That's the point of the picture at the top of this post.  Its a graphic illustration of that Core Value:  we all benefit when our community works together towards common goals.   Working together requires that we listen to each other, make compromises, and accept that to arrive at consensus we cannot demand that others capitulate to our individual will.  

Some people --- a relative minority of our community --- wanted to replace both our high schools with a mega high school.  If that small minority were to refuse to recognize the decision that reflects majority opinion, we could not reap the benefit that derives from working together towards common goals.   Its a matter of what kind of community do we want to be:  if we want to be a great community, we must establish a culture among leadership that puts kids first by accepting consensus decisions. 
Although the Board of Education has decided this first  issue without a single dissenting vote, there will remain numerous other questions, and we will need to find a community consensus for each.    Should we renovate or rebuild?  Where should the new high school be located?    Where should athletic facilities be located, and should they be shared across our two high schools?   How much should we spend on technology, furniture, theaters, science labs, and so on?   We are going to have to work together to resolve these questions in the spirit of listening and compromise, always keeping in mind that the prize for building consensus is that we all benefit when we work together toward a common goal. 

We can learn from Alexandria.   The payoff for building consensus was a high school that is a credit to their community.    Community leaders led the way by donating five million dollars, demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice for the good of the community.  They would not let any dispute or barrier defeat them. The Alexandria donor community united by behind their school; they recognized that if they would raise $5 million to guarantee that their school extra amenities, that it would rally and unite the community behind the sacrifices necessary to build.

I’m not suggesting that if we work together, we’ll raise $5 million to contribute to our new high school—although wouldn’t that be wonderful!  I’m suggesting that if leadership sets a good example by suppressing the urge to divide unless we conquer, we can work together for a common goal, supporting the best possible education for our young people.   If we can unite around that common goal, putting our disputes behind us after a decision is ultimately made, our community will be far richer.    

 In the next month or so, we’ll begin a community based design decision process that will give educators, students and community stakeholders an opportunity to assist the design team (architects and engineers).  Let us seize the opportunity to listen to each other while we advance our respective views passionately.   Let's not forget, however,  as we do this, that we a all benefit when communities work together for a common goal!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jerry Von Korff's School Board Campaign Page

------- "St. Cloud school board Chairman Jerry Von Korff has adequately refuted any proposal to consider a mega high school for the St. Cloud school system. Well done!"   Kermit Eastman, former Superintendent of Schools, District 742.   Letter to St. Cloud Daily Times, August 27, 2014. 

Welcome to my campaign page.   When I joined the Board in 2004, the district had a negative fund balance.   In the years before I joined the school board, the district had been overspending its revenues, draining its reserves from over $ 6 million into negative territory.  To reverse this trend, we had to make some really tough decisions -- to rein in spending and find new revenues.   I am proud to say that as chair, as board treasurer and board finance chair, I was a part of a team, including superintendent Watkins, other board members and staff who found ways to balance our budget and restore our fund balance, so that the District is now financially sound.  We no longer operate a few months away from insolvency.

Using our Financial Strength to Trigger Stronger Academics and to Elevate Achievement.  That turnaround in the district's financial position proves that when we all work together to implement a vision, we can make significant forward strides.  There are other areas where we must make significant forward strides.   We need to build on our financial strengths and translate those financial strengths into significantly improved academic achievement.
Jerry and Dr. Hightower on Juneteenth

 Our district can be justly proud of the strength of our programs that serve strong students.   We have opportunities second to none in central Minnesota including a broad range of rigorous advanced placement and upper level courses in our high schools.   But we need to make significant forward strides in how we address students who struggle, and students who come to us with disadvantages.   Every element of our district --- school board, superintendent, executives and administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and parents --- must elevate our game, work harder, expect more, and make the changes needed so that every student achieves his or her potential:  that means English Language Learners, average students, struggling students, students who come to us with challenges from home.  My belief is that all of us must do more to elevate academic achievement for all students.  I'm not running on what we've accomplished:  I'm running because I believe that we have a duty to accomplish so much more. 
Addressing Governor Dayton in St. Cloud
As time goes by, I will be posting vision statements to suggest what we must do to achieve these objectives.  In the meantime, here are some of my key positions:
  • I Oppose consolidating our high schools into a single mega-high school—research overwhelmingly establishes that mega high schools interfere with efforts to increase graduation rates, especially for disadvantaged and struggling students (See my Article in the St. Cloud Daily Times). 
  •  I've advocated that a fair share of new resources provided by the Dayton administration and legislature be invested in improvement initiatives. Board support for this initiative has resulted in creation of a $500,000 fund to provide class size relief to schools where class size has become unacceptable, $1 million in new initiatives funding, and an additional 15 minutes of learning time in each school day.
  • I've supported funding initiatives included $2.5 million in textbook replacement, $900,000 in technology investments, and additional funding initiatives to assure that  teachers have the resources they need to elevate academic achievement.
  • I support the Superintendent's introduction of the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination) to prepare more young people more effectively to study, to take notes, to organize their learning process, and to strive to achieve admission into college and other post-secondary learning.  (See my post advocating for AVID in 2010).  More about AVID.
  • I Supported adoption and faithful implementation of our new strategic plan, which emphasize the provision of a more welcoming safe environment, improved staff development, and above all significant elevation in our academic achievement.
Presiding over High School public Hearing
I Believe:

That public schools can do far more than we are currently doing to close the achievement gap, and that it is our responsibility to implement the programs and strategies that lift up every young person regardless of their disadvantage.   Works such as Karen Chenoweth’s “It’s Being Done,”  and David Kirps “Improbable Scholars,” describe strategies that yield remarkable results.  I support Superintendent Jett’s commitment to implementing these new strategies.

If we want to be a truly liveable city --- if we aspire to become a community of citizens who are financially independent and who all  live above the poverty line,  if we want to attract economic investment that offers high wage employment, if we want to maintain and expand our growing  health care, post secondary education, and technology industries, we must make sure that we provide highly educated population ready to provide the workforce skills necessary for the 21st century.      As long as a large number children are coming to our schools two or three years behind, we cannot expect to realize our full potential as a commercial, industrial, professional economic hub for central Minnesota.   We need to get way more ambitious in our efforts to promote high quality early childhood education for all families who want and need it. 

That we must maintain reasonable class sizes.    I authored the original Board resolution which committed to maintain the instructional ratio in our school district.  Along with other board members, I supported this year’s initiative to put ½ million dollars of new money into a class size relief fund to provide assistance in those schools where the class size rises unacceptably. 
That in a competitive education environment, we must provide community schools that attract parents and students.    From 2009 to 2014, elementary enrollment (including 6th grade) rose by 694 students or 20%.  Four schools account for almost all but 24 students of that growth – Clearview (132 new elementary students --25% increase), Madison (284 new students – 33% increase), Kennedy (154 new students – 30% increase) and Lincoln (100 new K-5 students, or 33%).   In each case, a major factor in the increased enrollment was community belief that these schools were providing exceptional quality.  Clearview and Madison introduced popular Chinese and Spanish immersion programs.   Kennedy introduced a popular K-8 alignment and an environmental emphasis.   I believe that we must never rest in our effort to listen to families and remain constantly vigilant in responding to the needs of our communities.

That we must keep faith with the legislature’s intention that we use new resources to improve student achievement. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What About Renovating Tech High?

Our school district has conducted three facilities plans in the last 15 years (2005, 2008, and 2011).    Each of these plans recommended that ultimately a new Tech High School would be constructed to the south, probably on land in the neighborhood of Nina park and 33d.   The first plan, 2005, recognized that this could not happen until the community was ready.  It envisioned that we would monitor enrollment, consider public sentiment, and continue to dialog with parents and other stakeholders and municipal planning authorities.  During the last decade, the school district under Bruce Watkins began to negotiate a land-swap with the City of St. Cloud for a potential new school site, and when the City updated its comprehensive plan it factored in the likely new school location and development of the adjoining park.

Recently, as the Board has moved forward in anticipation of replacing Tech high, as contemplated by the facilities plan, some people have advocated that we reconsider this plan and attempt to save the current high school.   They argue that we haven't carefully reviewed the possibilities of renovation and they want us to consider our options more carefully before we make our final decision.   The board has on its agenda for Wednesday August 13, 2014, approval of request for architect proposals.
The administration is recommending that the architect's advice include professional opinions and data on whether we should rethink the current plan to build on a new site, and instead investigate more intensively the possibility that Tech can be renovated.

This post, then, contains some links at the bottom to articles that focus on the renovation option.   None of these articles can answer the question whether renovation is feasible and sensible for our school district, because the answer depends on answering some questions that are specific to that school building, specific to our school district and to our community.   The articles that I am linking to tend to be weighted towards the renovation possibility, because they have been written generally by authors who favor renovation, or who believe that renovation deserves close scrutiny.   That fact should not suggest that I'm in the renovation camp:  right now, no professional has provided us with advice that would suggest that renovation is prudent.  That's the point of asking the architect who will advise the district to take a deeper and more careful look at the question. 

    Technical high school presents some major challenges from a renovation standpoint.    There are major structural issues in many parts of the building that our maintenance people tell us would be very costly to fix to modern code standards.   Renovation of a building triggers application of today's code standards.  For example the stairwells at Tech evidently are not current code compliant, and yet they abut structural features on either side, so bringing them into code compliance may require costly and inconvenient structural changes to those structures.  There are asbestos challenges.  We've had some moisture leakage at the junctions of the different additions. No school board could approve renovation without engaging in substantial due diligence to make sure that the reconstruction is feasible and that there are not potential unknown cost challenges.  Renovation also entails a temporary but very significant short term challenge:  where to put the students while the facility is being renovated.  

 Both Tech and Apollo were built during an era of cheap energy.   Architects couldn’t justify, couldn’t even imagine, the kinds of energy saving measures that we regard as routine today. The new Kennedy  building is Leeds certified.  It has geothermal energy support, and the architect designed windows and space to maximize the use of light an energy.    Apollo was constructed at a time, when school architects built sprawling suburban style schools with lots of outer surface space and very little attention (by today's standards) to energy conservation.  Modern  construction and design is vastly superior today in terms of energy conservation.   

    Another issue relates to the future development of our 250 square mile district.   Growth in the metropolitan area is occurring in a far different way than folks anticipated in the 1960's.  When Apollo was built, our district’s population was concentrated in a Northern crescent. Its difficult to place yourself back in that time.  But there were great expanses of land available for development in the northern crescent of St. Cloud and the City of St. Cloud was actually subsidizing that growth.  If you drive along Northway drive, you will see areas on either side that represent major growth areas of the City back then.   In the meantime, the surrounding townships --- St. Cloud Township, Sauk Rapids Township, St. Augusta township and Haven Township, had no modern municipal water and sewer, and didn't get those services until the 1980's and 1990's.  For a long period, the FHA placed a mortgage moratorium on financing home construction in the townships, because there was no long term supply of safe water to support growth  in those areas without municipal sewer.  When Apollo was constructed, city planners thought that most of the City's growth was going to take place in that northern crescent.   They didn't foresee the spreading out of urban growth that occurred decades later.  At the time, it was common for people to have many more children living on a small lot with a small home.  So a full high school's population could come from that northern crescent.  That is simply no longer the case.

When St. Cloud Township was annexed into the City, all of a sudden it became possible to extend municipal services into the old township. The City began aggressively to compete with suburban style growth by creating infrastructure  in the Oak Hill area  It became possible to build a home on a larger lot with municipal services.  Then St. Augusta and Haven Township made agreements with St. Cloud for municipal services and a number of subdivisions started to grow there.   St. Joseph started to expand and more and more our population has moved outward away from the northern crescent. Our school district is 250 square miles, but the two high schools were built both in what is now the northern edge of the metropolitan area only two miles apart.   So we have to recognize what has happened to the population center of our school district.

 All of these are factors that led the facilities task forces to recommend new high school construction to the south.  But we should not fear revisiting these issues.   A substantial number of people are telling us that they want to give this question another harder look, and we need to do that, but with professional advice and data.  The advocates for renovation need to be a part of that process, so that their voices are heard in a meaningful way as we ask questions and vet the answers of the professionals we retain.  In the meantime, I'm posting some resources that folks might find useful.    If you want to send me an email with suggestions for other resources, feel free to do so. 

Each of the articles mentioned begins with a bolded link to the article, so you can navigate to that article by clicking on the link right at the beginning.

The Long Haul:  “The decision to repair or replace a facility doesn't happen overnight; it requires long-range planning.  Some older facilities are characterized by higher test scores, more parental involvement and greater community pride. But when parents, staff, students and community members express frustrations about a facility, and students leave for newer schools in neighboring districts, it may be time to consider new construction. Excessive repair needs, high energy consumption and operating costs, thermal discomfort and the inability to physically support the education program are evidence that a building no longer provides a good environment for learning.”

A Final Determination  “Careful analysis is necessary when deciding whether to renovate a building, or tear it down and start from scratch. “   Author argues that when viewed from a strictly all-costs-considered cost perspective, for many facilities replacement with a new facility may be more costly than renovation.

New Construction vs. Renovation for Older School Facilities  Three factors generally trigger a decision to take a serious look at an aging school: health and safety deficiencies, outdated or poorly operating building systems, and program changes…..While sometimes the cost of replacing outdated systems, upgrading life and safety deficiencies, and accommodating program expansions within existing K-12 schools far exceeds the cost of building a new facility, there may be good reasons for to renovate an older building rather than build a new one……It is impossible to generalize. Community needs and sentiment, facility deficiencies and economics all play roles. Renovating can simply be the right thing to do, make the most economical sense or provide a school district with the right space given available funds. One thing is certain: Renovating older schools is challenging.

Cinderella Stories: Adaptive Reuse of Older Buildings.  Focus in this article is university buildings.  When considering renovation there are at least five tests that determine if the effort should be pursued:
1. Land acquisition is unrealistic.
2. Existing infrastructure has capacity.
3. Funding is limited.
4. There is historical value or alumni support.
5. Sustainability is a priority.

 If extensive demolition or structural work is necessary to convert a building to a new use, these items can cause renovation costs to go up to near or beyond the typical cost of building new structures. In addition to those issues, abatement of hazardous materials such as lead or asbestos can be financially significant and extend schedules beyond expectations. All of these issues should be analyzed and planned for by the project team…..Also, there are times when closing a building, or a portion of it, for renovation is unacceptable. Some functions on campus are simply mission-critical; they must stay in operation.

Historic Neighborhood Schools Deliver 21st Century Educations  Describes some success stories in which historic school buildings have been renovated.   “Many people equate old schools with substandard schools, but as hundreds of school districts throughout the United States have shown, well-renovated, well-maintained historic schools can support a first-class twenty-first century educational program.”

Renovate or Build New   Ohio School Facilities Commission  “Communities have options and flexibility when deciding whether to construct a new facility or retain the current building. Whether the decision is to renovate or build a new school, the ultimate objective is the same–provide the best possible place for students to grow and learn.

Factors to Consider:

  • Does the building have historical significance?
  •  Do the costs of rehabilitating the current facility outweigh the costs of building new?
  • Can the facility be renovated to accommodate 21st Century instructional delivery practices and modern technologies?
  • Are there parts of the building that should be retained? Are there sections that should be replaced?
  •  Is the facility properly sized for the school population of today and of the future?
  • Is the building well lit, spacious and comfortable?
  • Will the facility be operationally efficient?
  • Does the environment impart a feeling of safety and well-being?
There are countless ways to commemorate the historical significance of an older building in the newly constructed replacement building. Districts that have built new schools through OSFC programs have developed creative ways to reuse parts of the older building in the new school to
give it character and to recognize history.

Rethinking Schools Capital Investment  The Three R’s, Refresh, refurbish, reuse….   British publication.   Schools continue to need significant capital investment and in many cases new build may be the only option available. However, the refurbishment of existing schools may have a valuable place in contributing to the reduction of the UK financial deficit whilst significantly helping to raise educational standards and improve the life chances of young children

Howe Community School....example of renovation project.   "Howe Community School reopened after a year-long renovation transforming the historic 1927 school into a 21st Century learning environment after sitting completely unoccupied for 7 years. In addition to the classroom & teaching space improvements, the renovation provided much needed air conditioning and replaced the building’s mechanical, electrical and stormwater management infrastructure.  Exterior improvements included a new playground, accessible entrances, new windows and roofs, and masonry pointing to rehabilitate and reinforce the building as a strong community oriented asset. The school and site are once again full of life and activity serving the Longfellow neighborhood.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lets Envision a Great 21st Century World-Class High School

    As we consider possible replacement of century old Technical High School, I believe that it is critical that we keep our priorities straight.   If we decide to build a new high school, we must build the foundation for a future century of learning.   The building must therefore house a great 21st Century high school, and our vision of great curriculum,  teaching and learning, is far more important than any debate we might have about the structure and size of the building itself.  Whether the building is made of bricks, concrete, or steel, whether it has one story or three, is less important than whether it houses a great and highly effective school designed to educate all of our young people to their highest potential.  As we move forward with potential building designs, we must maintain a focus on the design the system of high school education that will occur inside the structure, so that it prepares our children for career, civic engagement, and lifelong success.   For this reason, I've collected some resources on systemic high school redesign and reform that capture the growing movement behind high school improvement. You will find below, some links to guidelines designed to help school district think about reformed world class visionary high schools that will meet tomorrow's educational challenges.

    Most of the resources supplied here were provided to me by Andrea Preppernau, District 742 Assistant Director of Research Accountability.  But I've added some resources as well.

    What is behind the movement for high school redesign?   At its core, the high school redesign movement recognizes that there has been a radical shift in the mission statement for American Education.   Fifty years ago, our job market provided decent earning opportunities for high school graduates who were prepared for semi-skilled work, on the assembly line, in mines and manufacturing.  You could graduate high school with limited mathematics, science, and even reading, and still find productive employment that paid a living wage and provided decent benefits.   But in the last half century, the market for semi-skilled employment has shrunk, and it is harder and harder for students with marginal high school records to find employment.   According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 16 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in the state require education beyond high school. To meet this demand, Minnesota will need to increase the rate of students who finish some type of post-secondary education by 50%.

    Fifty years ago, we could view high school as a teaching institution where students would pass or fail, succeed in higher level courses, or become stuck in less challenging courses without intervention.   A teacher might say, I offer this course.  If you get your work done and are capable, you will pass; if you don't, you will fail.    I'm here to provide opportunities, not to assure success.    And in that system, some students thrived, and other students --- even quite capable students --- failed to reach their maximum potential.   Not every teacher approached education in that way, of course.  But systemically, our high schools were designed to deliver opportunities to learn, and students passed or failed, depending upon whether they measured up to the demands of teachers in classrooms.  Many students, even very capable students, dropped out under this system, or found themselves relegated to lower level math, science, reading and writing courses, simply because they got stuck in the lower track, despite unrealized potential.  They got stuck on factoring and couldn't move on.  They missed out on fractions, maybe, or had a curable learning disability that interfered with their ability to read.   They were ill for six months, and found themselves behind, and since the system didn't provide for interventions, they got stuck in a cycle of being behind.   Again, I want to emphasize that in those days, there were many dedicated teachers who reached out to these students, as an individual act of caring.  But few schools in those days, and still today, too few schools provide systemic support for students in the middle and lower quartiles as a matter of certainty.

    Although there are many aspects of the movement to reform today's high schools,  the most important is a systemic redesign that provides support and interventions to students when they start to fall behind, so that every student realizes his or her maximum potential.    In the reformed high school, this doesn't happen simply as an act of individual heroism by a single teacher:  the system is designed into a comprehensive learning community that immediately recognizes when a student is falling behind.  When a student fails to turn in homework, the high school doesn't say, "that's a zero," maybe when you take my course, you will learn from your mistakes and become more responsible."   It says, "in our high school, students do their homework.  Failure is not an option: get your homework done, I'm counting on you to succeed."   When a student comes to 9th grade behind in mathematics, the school identifiies that and immediately develops a plan to catch that student up so that she doesn't fall into a downward spiral of mathematics failure.    

    So that's the end of my sermon:.   I have linked to each of these resources and provided a bit of a teaser so that you might get a sense of what you will find if you follow the line.


The intent of the Systemic High School Redesign: Building a Minnesota Model Framework is to assist high schools in achieving the vision that Minnesota’s investment in education will help all students achieve, at a minimum, a Early Childhood through post-secondary education that will enable them to develop a strong work ethic, gain competitive employment, pursue lifelong learning, become engaged citizens for the 21st century, and enhance their quality of life by providing research-based information and resources to support the five core components of the initiative.

Systemic High School Redesign: Building a Minnesota Model Framework is available online for all high schools to assist with their high school improvement initiatives. The framework lists ideal characteristics of the research-based five core components for high school improvement. For each of the characteristics, the framework provides lists of possible tools to measure these characteristics, potential strategies for implementation, possible resources to explore, and advisor guidance.  

Core components include:
  • Rigorous and relevant course-taking for all students, especially at transition points.
  •  Personalized learning environment for each student, with the support of parents and other adult mentors.
  • Multiple pathways to post secondary training or college to achieve a minimum K-14 education.
  • High-quality teacher and principal leadership.
  • Student assessment and program evaluation data used to continuously improve school climate, organization, management, curricula and instruction.
Systemic High School Design provides a detailed chart with suggested target improvements and progress indicators.
Eight Elements of High School Improvement: A Mapping Framework  (National High School Center)

Research on comprehensive school reform suggests that improvement strategies have the best opportunity for success and sustainability when they take into account the broad array of elements that make up the system being improved. Yet, many current high school improvement initiatives are focused only on specific priority topics (e.g., dropout prevention), specific intervention strategies (e.g., advisories, small schools), or program initiatives (e.g., Check and Connect). Although such approaches can have an important impact, their reach is too frequently limited to a subset of systemic reform elements. Implementing such initiatives may lead to success in addressing specific needs, but the probability of widespread improvement is small when initiatives are implemented in isolation from the broader education systems within which they operate.

This document offers descriptions of the eight elements of high school improvement:

• Rigorous Curriculum and Instruction
• Teacher Effectiveness and Professional Growth
• Stakeholder Engagement
• Organization and Structure
• Assessment and Accountability
• Student and Family Involvement
• Effective Leadership
• Sustainability

The 20 Non-Negotiable Characteristics of Higher Performing School Systems Report, National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) | ACT, Inc.

What lessons can we learn from schools and school systems that prepare higher percentages of students for college and careers? ACT’s National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) identifies higher performing schools–schools that have greater success at growing students towards college and career readiness than their comparable schools–and studies their practices. NCEA’s research extends across 20 states, 300 districts, and over 550 school systems. The detailed results of this research are organized into NCEA’s Core Practice Framework (see diagram below) and provides educators with guidelines for creating cohesive, aligned systems geared to all students mastering high standards. Rather than reinvent K-12 practices and processes, educators can turn to NCEA’s Core Practice Framework to learn what makes
a higher performing school work, and then apply those core teaching and learning practices to their own systems.

National High School Center Main Website   The National High School Center recognizes that there are a variety of processes that high schools and districts can employ to support high school improvement. Regardless of the specific tools and frameworks that may be used, the Center believes that the six steps of high school improvement illustrated in the School Improvement Process figure provide high schools and districts with a structure to customize their approach to best support high school improvement efforts.

Pathways to Prosperity Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century (by Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard University, 2011)

One of the most fundamental obligations of any society is to prepare its adolescents and young adults to lead productive and prosperous lives as adults. This means preparing all young people with a solid enough foundation of literacy, numeracy, and thinking skills for responsible citizenship, career development, and lifelong learning. For over a century, the United States led the world in equipping its young people with the education they would need to succeed. By the middle of the 19th century, as Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz write in their book, The Race between Education and Technology, “the U.S. already had the most educated youth in the world.” At the turn of the 20th century, just as Europe was catching up, the rapid spread of the “high school movement” helped the U.S. vault ahead again.......Yet as we end the first decade of the 21st century, there are profoundly troubling signs that the U.S. is now failing to meet its obligation to prepare millions of young adults. In an era in which education has never been more important to economic success, the U.S. has fallen behind many other nations in educational attainment and achievement. Within the U.S. economy, there is also growing evidence of a “skills gap” in which many young adults lack the skills and work ethic needed for many jobs that pay a middle-class wage. Simultaneously, there has been a dramatic decline in the ability of adolescents and young adults to find work. Indeed, the percentage of teens and young adults who have jobs is now at the lowest level since World War II.........

Breaking Ranks    The Comprehensive Framework for School Improvement.  (National Association of Secondary Principals)   Fifteen years of advocacy for school reform that seeks to combine all the elements needed to make substantive, sustainable school change that brings improved student performance.  "Regardless of grade level, all schools must address the three core areas of collaborative leadership (CL); personalizing your school environment (PER); and curriculum, instruction, and assessment to improve student performance (CIA). Only by addressing each of these three overlapping areas can improved student performance occur.  At the foundation of this interconnected Breaking Ranks Framework lie nine cornerstones that should guide implementation of improvement initiatives. These are the foundational concepts upon which the Breaking Ranks Framework is built:

Leadership===Professional Development===Culture===Organization===Curriculum===Instruction===Assessment===Relationships===Equity.

College Access Matters -- II  Minnesota Minority Education Partnership   According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 16 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in the state require education beyond high school. To meet this demand, Minnesota will need to increase the rate of students who finish some type of post-secondary education by 50%......Now, as Minnesota’s demographics continue to shift, the overall share of young people in the state with at least a bachelor’s degree is expected to decline. As it currently stands, the percentage of Minnesotans ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college is 9 percent lower for persons of color compared to whites. The racial gap is much higher when it comes to post-secondary graduation rates at four-year institutions. Minnesota’s four-year institutions, for example, have a 16 percent lower graduation rate for all students of color, which breaks out to a discrepancy of 12 percent for African American students and 26 percent for Hispanic students. In order to meet the needs of Minnesota’s workforce and to ensure that students are prepared and equipped to participate in the knowledge economy, action is needed now to boost college enrollment and completion among students of color, beginning with college readiness and access. ......4. School Infrastructure Matters: By building the college access and readiness capacity of school-based staff, including instructional, counseling and support staff more students will have the opportunity to engage with knowledgeable adults regarding the college going process.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Roosevelt Tragedy Should Stimulate Community Pre-K ReAssessment

(Click here for Main Campaign Page)

Last Thursday, the City Council chambers were filled with advocates and supporters of our District 742 early childhood education services.   We provide support for parent education, special education for students with disabilities, regular early childhood education services, support for children with substantial psychiatric challenges, and some collaboration with private providers in the District.  With the destruction of Roosevelt by lightning and fire, the board invited advocates for early childhood services to speak to the board, in part to celebrate the school's past, but also to provide a vision for a possible future.  Those who spoke urged us to provide coherent, integrated services in a single comprehensive state of the art facility and that clearly makes sense.  Hopefully, replacement cost coverage for the destroyed building will provide a financial foundation for making that possible.   Supporters appearing at our meeting included teachers, parents, specialists, and representatives of other organizations with a stake in early childhood services, such as the United Way and Boys and Girls Club.  

I hope as well, that the tragic loss of the old facilities will trigger a comprehensive community review of where we currently stand as a community in the provision of early childhood services, and what we should aspire to become.  And I believe that the answer to that is that we must aspire to provide early childhood services in our community at a level that is second to none in America.   Our school district cannot do this alone.  It would take collaboration among private child care providers, the United Way, community and private foundations large and small, communities of faith, city and county government, Head Start, and individual citizens.    If we want to be a truly liveable city --- if we aspire to become a community of citizens who are financially independent and who all  live above the poverty line,  if we want to attract economic investment that offers high wage employment, if we want to maintain and expand our growing  health care, post secondary education, and technology industries, we must make sure that we provide highly educated population ready to provide the workforce skills necessary for the 21st century.      As long as a large number children are coming to our schools two or three years behind, we cannot expect to realize our full potential as a commercial, industrial, professional economic hub for central Minnesota.   We need to get way more ambitious in our efforts to promote high quality early childhood education for all families who want and need it. 

A number of communities in the United States have undertaken truly ambitious pre-K community programs.   The City of Tulsa has recently been covered in a National Public Radio program," Early Childhood Education, Tulsa, stands out."  Union City, New Jersey, one of the nation’s poorest urban centers, armed with funding provided as a result of groundbreaking state constitutional litigation, has allegedly made significant progress in part by adopting a major pre-K initiative in coordination with its public school systems,   Itasca County’s public school districts and others have combined to initiate “Invest Early.  ”   Cincinnati Strive has made early childhood education a central shared objective of the public schools, municipalities and counties, and the diocese among other partner.

Our community has not yet undertaken a commitment to doing what it takes to accomplish the objective of universal quality pre-K.   Partners for Student Success has been challenging us to do that., but we as a community have not yet bought into this vision.  The choice we face as a community, I believe, is whether we want to make incremental change, inching our way forward, as resources permit, towards the ultimate but unreachable goal, or whether we want to set ambitious objectives, funded by grants, or special taxing authority, or special legislative authority, or by a constitutional litigation like that which resulted in the funding of Union City.   At the rate we are now moving forward, it is not at all clear that in two decades time we will be any further along towards the objective of universal pre-k than we are today.  Let us use the Roosevelt tragedy as a reminder of the great good that quality pre-K education can do for our community.   

We properly  grieved for the children who lost their early childhood education facility through the tragedy of lightning and fire.     But other children in our community don't have quality early childhood education at all....didn't have it before the lightning struck, and won't have it after we replace the facility, because our community has not yet recognized the importance of universal pre k.   That absence of quality services for all arises not from an accidental lightning strike, but from an equally tragic failure of our community to recognize that we cannot thrive economically and socially as long as we have children who come to school without the skills and attitudes necessary for effective learning.  

What are the elements of a successful Pre-K community initiative?   The literature seems to support the following objectives.

A.        All students whose families want Pre-K education, receive it.  To provide children with a solid foundation for success before they enter school, we need to start treating pre-K as a fundamental component of the education system, not an optional add-on.  Universal access to voluntary, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents want pre-K serviced.   I believe that we have not yet as a community accepted this as a community mission.   Adopting this as a central mission—objective—would require us to assess the cost of meeting this objective, and then undertaking to find additional resources to meet that objective.    Transferring scarce funds out of elementary and secondary education is not sufficient, because the research makes it clear that early childhood initiatives only pay dividends when they are followed by outstanding elementary and secondary programs. 

B.                 Properly Trained Teachers.   Pre-K programs employ highly skilled teachers who have appropriate credentials. “Teachers working with young children must have higher education levels that enable them to support that development.” In a truly successful program,   “Qualified teachers with both a bachelor’s degree and specialized training in how young children learn.”   There are some major policy choices to be made if we take this objective seriously.   Public school teacher costs are significantly higher than non-union pre-K programs.   But many non-public school programs do not attract and retain  appropriately qualified teachers.

C.              Outstanding Curriculum.  Pre-K programs must also have clearly-defined, developmentally-appropriate curricula and expectations of children’s learning that are aligned with expectations for elementary and secondary students. Quality, developmentally appropriate curriculum and standards aligned from pre-K through third grade.   

D.          Monitoring/Continuous Improvement.  Equally important, policymakers must develop systems and infrastructure to monitor the quality of pre-K programs and hold them accountable by tracking comprehensive indicators of child development and long-term effects of pre-K programs on children’s academic performance in school.

E.       Integration with K-3 Education.  Research that shows that pre-K programs can improve student learning also shows that they are not as effective if children move from quality pre-K programs into poor- quality elementary schools that are ill-equipped to sustain pre-K learning gains.  Strong leadership committed to providing children with a seamless educational experience.  We must ensure that all educators working with young children in this age range have a solid understanding of early childhood development, recognize the importance of the PreK-3rd years in children’s development, and are committed to creating a seamless educational experience in these years.   Merely calling ourselves “partners” cannot achieve this objective.  It is easy to form a partnership in name, but actually assuring robust and coordinated curriculum demands developing concrete mechanisms to make the objective a reality.

F.       Emphasis on both academics and social/emotional development in early grades. If our schools are to be effective in preparing our youngest children for success—in school, work, family, and life— they must prioritize social and emotional development in the PreK-3rdyears,  as well as academics.

G.           Alignment  Standards, curricula, formative assessments, and instructional strategies must be aligned with one another so that all work together to support children’s learning. This alignment must be both vertical—from grade to grade—and horizontal, so that all elements work together and children in different classrooms have a common learning experience. Standards must be aligned from grade to grade and over the course of the year, so that children’s learning builds in a seamless progression on top of what they already know.

 H.         Parental Engagement.  Effective PreK-3rd educational systems do not operate in a vacuum, but actively establish connections with the parents and communities they serve. Parental engagement is important at all levels of the educational system, but it is particularly important in the early years. PreK-3rd programs must also respect and reflect the broader cultures and communities their children come from.

I.        Coordinate with University Education   Actually transforming university education requires courageous action at the university level, because the Minnesota University culture is not always ready for change.

J.        Develop Targeted Programs for Non-English Speakers and their Parents

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Building a Mega High School is Wrong for Our Community

Former Board member Bruce Hentges  and a very few others are actively campaigning that the School District should close Apollo High School and consolidate the two high schools into on mega high school.   The vision they offer is a new mega-high school designed for 3000 students or more.   People who support the mega high school concept argue that we could deliver a vast array of courses in a Wayzata style high school more cheaply in a single high school.  This vision, of a gigantic mega-high school is exactly the wrong direction and it fundamentally contradicts the vision of our strategic plan.

The consolidated mega-high school approach has been rejected decisively by each of the three facilities task forces that have considered high school replacement in the last decade.  In the most recent, the 2011 task force, the concept was aggressively supported by a small minority of task force members. At the end of the task force's work, the task force voted 46-6 against a consolidated high school plan.

The claim that we can save money by replacing our two high schools with one mega-high school is totally unsupportable.  The claim, in fact, is grossly absurd.   In the first place, a consolidated single high school would cost about $40 million more to construct and would take Apollo High School out of service unnecessarily.  At three percent interest, the excess bond costs to taxpayers over 30 years would be $2 million a year in extra interest and $40 million in extra principal, for a total of an extra $60 million in costs.  .If we were going to choose a single-high school solution, we would need to have $60 million dollars’ worth of reasons to go ultra-big, but research almost uniformly tells us that mega high schools are not cheaper to run, that they produce less welcoming environments, and lower academic results.   Why would we pay more to get less?

Moreover, putting construction costs aside, the literature clearly rejects the contention that 3000 student high schools are cheaper per student to run than 1500 student schools, and actually supports the conclusion that cost per student rises at least above 2000 students, and probably at an even lower level.  Nothing in our strategic plan suggest that we are supposed to  model ourselves on the Wayzata model, in fact quite the opposite. We have significant cultural, economic, and demographic differences from Wayzata.   We have plenty of high performing students with strong home support for learning, and those students do well in most any environment.  But our strategic plan was designed around all of our students.  

Erroneous Claims of Cost Savings  
Suppose we were willing to spend $40 million more of taxpayer dollars to build a mega high school:  proponents argue that it would be worth the money, because it might save us money in operating costs as compensation.   They seem to argue that it would be ok to ask taxpayers to spend millions more for high school space we don't currently need, beause we would save operating costs over time.

But this argument is actually wrong, because mega schools actually cost more per student to run.  So we would be buying a bigger building that would cost more to run to boot.  In their 2005 literature review, “Effects of School Size: A Review of the Literature with Recommendation, professors Slate and Jones write:
In spite of the face validity of school consolidation as a solution for educational problems, the research on school size indicates that the economic and curricular advantages of large schools are often exaggerated...... 

Slate and Jones argue that the weight of evidence demonstrates that increasing the size of schools over 1000 does not actually improve economic efficiency--the cost per student--but actually causes it to decline, they argue:  

When school size is considered in isolation, schools between 500 and 1,000 students are probably operating at peak economic efficiency already (Turner & Thrasher, 1970). Thus, with regard to economies of scale, current research does not support school consolidation of schools that already have 500 or more students. Nor does this literature support consolidation that would result in a school of more than 1000 students. [While efficiencies occur from consolidations up to 500 students, the article continues...] before consolidating schools with fewer than 500 students, educational decision-makers need to consider additional factors such as transportation costs in determining the likely cost effectiveness of this action.  

Why might size increases beyond 1000 students result in cost inefficiencies?   One very obvious factor, of course, is that a very large high school, must support a much larger transportation network, because the extra-large school must draw students from a larger geographic area.   But another is that at some point enrollment increases the demand for extra layers of administration.  For example, the principal in a high school supervises professionals, and that involves supervision, coordination, and communication.   When size increases, the number of professionals supervised gets larger and larger, it becomes difficult for the principal to meet and supervise with all staff, and that means that the principal needs assistant principals or other principals to conduct that supervision, and increasingly, the head principal becomes a supervisors of supervisors, and the supervision is conducted in layers of supervision.   As the school gets more people supervising more people, layers of bureaucracy can build up within the school. 

 Very small schools often are forced to deliver courses with small class sizes, because even required or critical elective courses may not draw enough students.  But as school size increases, the literature explains, it becomes possible to insist on reasonable class sizes for all offerings.   The benefits derived from class size-efficiencies, then fall away, and increasing administrative and transportation costs supplant them.  This creates a U-Shaped cost curve in which at first increasing school size reduces cost per student, but at somewhere around 1000 students, the cost per student rises again.

….a number of researchers have explored the causes of this U-shaped relationship 
between school size and per pupil cost.   Monk (1992) found that savings projected for a number of expenses simply did not occur with large school size……Fox (1981) noted that as long as increasing school size results in larger pupil/teacher ratios, per pupil expenditures will drop.  Once maximum class size is reached, however, no additional savings are possible, but continued increase in school size will continue to increase administrative costs.  That is, the need for additional administrative staff continues to grow with increased school size even after maximum student-teacher ratios are reached (Haller, 1992, McKenzie, 1983).    McGuire (1989) concluded that schools with an enrollment above 2000 were located on the upward slope of the cost curve and that their continued combination of teaching personnel and course offerings could be made available in a smaller and more economical setting.

 A report to the Oregon State Legislature describes a similar results from a review of high school size and cost.

 “Most recent studies have concluded that the costs savings from larger school sizes have not materialized, primarily because administrative costs tend to increase as school sizes increase, eating up much of the costs savings. At the other end of the spectrum, the benefits of smallness diminish below a certain level, with costs per student rising dramatically as class sizes in small schools inevitably fall. As a result of these findings, a number of researchers have estimated that the optimal high school size is between 500 and 1,000 students.”

Mega Schools Don’t Produce Superior Results

 A study by Knowledge Works, summarizes why the weight of modern research shows consolidating into large schools does not produce promised academic gains:

  The research about the value of smaller schools shows that small schools are safer schools and better places for students to work with adults who know them and whom they trust (Barker & Gump[1], 1964; Wasley[2], 2000; Cotton[3], 2001). Small schools graduate a higher percentage of students. Students drop out of small schools at lower rates than they do from large schools, and more students who graduate from small schools go on to post-secondary education than do their counterparts who graduate from large schools. There is less violence in small schools, less vandalism, a heightened sense of belonging, and better attendance. Students earn higher grade point averages, and more participate in extracurricular activities. There is greater teacher satisfaction in small schools than there is in large schools. Members of the community including parents and other relatives are more involved with the life of small schools than are their counterparts in large schools—for the same reasons as their children (Cotton, 2001).

The research in this area is endless but it rejects extra large high schools overwhelmingly.   The great thrust of research challenges the assertion that more courses translates into a better education or better educational results.   Effective high schools assure that students master the core.  They provide a reasonable range of options, of course.  They must assure that bright students are challenged, and they must assure appropriate interventions or remediation for students who are behind.   But when students are selecting from dozens of literature options it is difficult to assure implementation and design of a quality comprehensive curriculum and to assure that all students are progressing through the necessary reading objectives.

 Our kids need more from their school than lots of courses and powerful sports teams.  Here in St. Cloud, we hear from our students that they want to go to school in an environment where their teachers know them, where teacher care enough to support them when they need a boost.  If we remain faithful to our strategic plan we don’t need to engage in micro-scrutiny of the potential costs of running a mega high school, or the potential extra course offerings.   Our strategic plan is pointing us in a completely different direction.  

Schools like Wayzata can, and often do, offer multiple levels of journalism courses, boutique literature courses (such as Detective-Gothic literature, the Graphic Novel, and Science Fiction/Fantasy literature), and a wide variety of other luxury courses (five levels of drawing, six levels of pottery and ceramics)  that are not necessary to provide a quality core program of academics.  It is probably true, that a 3000 student high school can offer more layers of journalism courses than a 1000 student high school, and if providing a smorgasbord of courses were part of our strategic plan, then perhaps a mega high school would be worth at least a discussion.     But I see absolutely nothing in our strategic plan that remotely suggests that our community’s primary objective is to see how many different courses their children can choose from.     In fact, to the contrary, we were asked to create a more welcoming, more supportive, more community based environment than we currently have.  The literature tells us that creating mega high schools undermine all of these objectives.   Why are we even giving serious considering to an option that would completely turn our strategic plan upside down? 

We should be starting, as our strategic plan suggests, by looking to the core of what constitutes a highly effective high school.  Marzano is not the only basis for our strategic plan, but reviewing what he calls upon us to do, would give focus to what high school design is about.   Highly effective schools provide:
  • ·         A Safe and Orderly Environment That Supports Cooperation and Collaboration.  In highly effective schools, the faculty and staff perceive the school environment as safe and orderly.  For example, students, parents, and the community perceive the school environment as safe and orderly.   Teachers have formal roles in the decision - making process regarding school initiatives.    Teacher teams and collaborative groups regularly interact to address common issues regarding curriculum, assessment, instruction, and the achievement of all students.  Teachers and staff have formal ways to provide input regarding the optimal functioning of the school.
  •  ·         An instructional framework that develops and maintain effective instruction in every classroom. In an effective school, support is provided to teachers to continually enhance their pedagogical skills through reflection and professional growth plans.  Predominant instructional practices throughout the school are known and monitored.   Teachers are provided with clear, ongoing evaluations of their pedagogical strengths and weaknesses that are based on multiple sources of data and are consistent with student achievement data.  …..
  • ·         A guaranteed and viable curriculum focused on enhancing student learning.   In highly effective schools the school curriculum is focused enough so that it can be adequately addressed in the time available to teachers. …. Data are analyzed, interpreted and to regularly monitor progress toward school achievement goals.  Appropriate school-level and classroom-level programs and practices are in place to help students meet individual achievement goals when data indicate interventions are needed.
  • ·         A Standards - referenced System of reporting student progress.    Clear and measurable goals are established and focused on critical needs regarding improving achievement of individual students within the school.  Data are analyzed, interpreted, and used to regularly monitor progress toward achievement goals for individual students.  
  •  ·         A Competency - Based System That Ensures Student Mastery of Content.     In a highly effective school, students move on to the next level of the curriculum for any subject area only after they have demonstrated competence at the previous level.  The school schedule is designed to accommodate students moving at a pace appropriate to their backgrounds and needs.  Students who have demonstrated competency levels greater than those articulated in the system are afforded immediate opportunities to begin work on advanced content and/or career paths of interest
 There is no evidence --- none --that consolidating high schools into mega high schools would promote any of these objectives.  In fact there is a ton of evidence that very large high schools interfere with those objectives by creating a less welcoming, less collaborative, less accountable, more disjointed teaching and learning environment.   These highly effective school components are integrated into our strategic plan, and they resonate throughout the things that our superintendent is calling upon principals, executive directors, teachers and all of us to accomplish.    We need to deliver on our commitment to create highly effective schools, not just for some students, but for all our students.  

We agreed that we would be making decisions with a focus on promoting those objectives and consolidating our two high schools does neither.   Nothing in our strategic plan calls upon us to mechanically calculate whether we can offer more journalism, more pottery, and more science fiction literature courses than any other high school in the state.   We are driven instead by our strategic plan to provide a quality core education for all of our students and to do so in a more welcoming environment.   We should be driven by creating a highly effective high school that works for all of our students, and everything we do going forward towards high school design should be focused like a laser on that objective.

[1] Barker R. & Gump, P. (1964). Big school small school: High school size and student behavior. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press
[2] Wasley, P. A. & Lear, R. J. (2001, March). Small schools, real gains. Educational Leadership. 58 (6), 22-27.
[3] Cotton, K. (2001, December). New small learning communities: Findings from recent literature. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory,