Category Archives: Education

District 197’s 2018 Bond Referendum: Vote Yes

District 197 has an bond referendum on the ballot May 8. They’re asking for $117 million for additions, renovations, and repairs at all schools.

So how much is this going to cost and what does it mean? Let’s take a look.

How Much Will It Go Up?

For a median value home ($237,200), your taxes will go up $87 per year, or $7 per month.

The district has a handy chart showing how much we’re paying right now:

District 197 tax comparison
Total 2017 school property taxes for a home valued at $200,000.

The proposed bond will increase taxes on a home valued at $200,000 by $77 per year. On this chart, that would raise us to $819, and past Inver Grove Heights by a whopping $20. We’d still be well below most of our neighbors and other metro districts.

It’s not a big increase. Continue reading District 197’s 2018 Bond Referendum: Vote Yes

Back to School

Today is the first day of school. My kids are off to second grade and fifth grade (middle school!).

Pardon me while I celebrate the end of summer.

(I’m a work-at-home dad. Summer is not so easy.)

School can always be kind of crazy making. I’m 37, I’ve been out of school for… a long time, and I still have recurring nightmares about getting lost in school, unable to find my classes or remember my schedule.

This prayer seems apt:

Even when there’s not much to be nervous about—my kids have it pretty easy—they’re still nervous.

Just looking at this photo from the superintendent, the welcome wagon at high school—especially the high fives—makes me a little nervous. It’s a welcoming gesture, sure, but it feels like window dressing for the high school experience. When it comes to finding a seat in the cafeteria or sitting next to someone on the bus or just walking down the halls, will those smiles and high fives still be there?

Honestly, I feel a little bit of relief that I don’t have to deal with any of it, that the kids are off and the house is quiet again. They’re as prepared as they’re going to be, and they’ll have to face it themselves.

Godspeed.

School District 197’s 2014 Tech/Security/Stadium Referendum

Apparently this is the year I blog about local election politics. Sheesh. I didn’t intend to get into these discussions, but it’s been so frustrating to get misleading information. It’s hard enough to research local elections, we shouldn’t have to wade through misleading info as well.

197 Referendum Facts

So School District 197 (West St. Paul, Eagan and Mendota Heights) has a referendum on the ballot to approve levies for three separate things—technology, security and a new stadium.

You can get the full details of the referendum here.

The technology portion covers student iPads and other equipment, as well as software and training (there’s lots of personalized instruction that can happen with technology these days, but you have to pay for it). The security levy is to upgrade school entrances and minimize the risk of school shootings. The stadium portion—which can only pass if the other two pass (very smart)—is to build a multi-use stadium at the high school. Currently the football team plays 2.5 miles away at one of the middle schools.

For a $200,000 home, this referendum will raise property taxes by $32 per year. The district has some helpful graphs showing our property taxes compared to surrounding districts, before and after the levy.

Continue reading School District 197’s 2014 Tech/Security/Stadium Referendum

Help Close the Achivement Gap

I’ve been talking about Ferguson for the past week or so, and it’s left me feeling raw and frustrated and powerless. That’s a good time to take action.

This isn’t directly related to Ferguson, but I think it is a good way you can help the general problem of racial disparity we see at work in Ferguson.

The Achievement Gap

Minnesota is one of the top states in the country for education. We’re also one of the worst states in the nation for the achievement gap. What’s that mean? It means the performance gap between white students and students of color in Minnesota is among the worst in the nation.

So to put it bluntly—Minnesota has a great education system, but only if you’re white. If you’re a student of color, you’re not going to do as well.

Here are some reading scores from St. Paul Public Schools: 2014_08achievegap

(see the full PDF report)

Now those are older numbers (2004-2006) and the state is making a concerted effort to improve. But a recent report noted that both Minneapolis and St. Paul are only hitting state goals for white students.

The achievement gap is a very real problem. It can go on to impact all sorts of other things: graduation rates, college, income levels, etc.

If we want to break the racial disparity in the United States, we must address the achievement gap.

What’s it Look Like Locally?

The West Side neighborhood has had a problem with under-performing schools. Here’s some data comparing three schools in St. Paul’s West Side and the city of West St. Paul (which are two different school districts):

2014_08schoolscomp

(You can get this data for any school from the Minnesota Report Card.)

Cherokee Heights is the elementary school for the West Side. Nearly all of their scores are below 50%. Only 27% of their students are “on track” for success. Students have not made a year’s progress (AYP) in reading for the last five years (2009-2013). The racial breakdown for Cherokee Heights is also incredibly diverse: 88% people of color.

By comparison, Garlough and Somerset are both schools in the nearby West St. Paul district. Garlough’s scores are in the 50-75% range and Somerset is in the 75-100% range. Garlough has 68% of their students “on track” for success and has made AYP for all but two of the last five years in reading. Somerset has 71% of their students “on track,” and has hit AYP all five years. Demographics wise it should be no surprise: Garlough is 60% people of color; Somerset is 20%.

One Way to Fix the Achievement Gap

I don’t say any of this to throw Cherokee Heights under the bus. They’ve got hard working teachers doing their best. But they’ve got a long way to go.

Now I’m also not an expert on the achievement gap. But my wife is a kindergarten teacher. She knows this stuff. She works at a new charter school in the West Side neighborhood of St. Paul called West Side Summit. Charter schools are public schools with a specific focus, and are effectively their own district.

West Side Summit’s goal is to close the achievement gap.

They’re working with the same population as Cherokee Heights (West Side’s population breakdown is slanted more Hispanic and less black and Asian, but it’s very similar: 84% people of color). They’re using a new blended learning model—the only elementary school in Minnesota doing it—where the kids work on computers for large chunks of the day, using programs that adapt to what each kid needs to learn. They also have an extended school day and an extended school year—more time in the classroom.

And they’re doing it. In the school’s first year the entire school averaged a year and a quarter’s progress in reading (West Side doesn’t have data in the Minnesota Report Card site yet; my data comes directly from the school). That may not sound like much, but most schools aren’t hitting AYP at all, let alone going above and beyond. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts as a whole haven’t hit AYP at all for the last five years in reading. Even the West St. Paul district (with the highly achieving Somerset school above) has only hit it in 2013.

Get to the Point!: How You Can Help

So aside from depressing you about the state of our schools (remember: Minnesota is among the best in the nation), what’s the point?

Giving kids access to books has been hugely important. A previous Donor’s Choose project put a ton of audio books in my wife’s classroom. Last year her class had a year and a half’s progress in reading. That’s amazing!

Right now my wife is doing a Donor’s Choose project to put iPods in her classroom. The iPods will be a big improvement over CD players—no more scratched discs, no more dying batteries, plus kids can record and listen to themselves reading. It’s an innovative way to get kids into books, boost their reading and close that achievement gap.

The project total is nearly $1,500. That’s a lot of money. However, the Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation is offering a 50% match if the project can be completed before Sunday, August 24. That’s tomorrow. So we need your help now!

As I’m writing this, we only need $450 more to hit the goal and get the matching grant. Will you help? Please donate now.

I realize this is only one tiny way to help close the achievement gap. It’s a giant problem with far-reaching consequences and there are probably a million things we could be doing.

But that’s overwhelming. This is one way you can help right now.

Thanks for your support.

Update: The project was fully funded on Sunday, August 24. We did it before the deadline and got the fully matching grant. A big thank you to those who donated.

Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

I don’t like helping my kids with their homework. There, I said it.

My parents never had to harass me to do my homework. I just did it. I was annoyingly responsible. To the point that I spent Friday nights in college getting a jump on papers. My wife still makes fun of me for that.

But I feel no sense of responsibility over my kids’ homework. It’s their homework. They need to be responsible for it themselves.

And now there’s research that backs me up. Apparently kids don’t learn anything when parents help them, and sometimes they even do worse in school. Why? Well, do you remember the quadratic formula? Me neither. [For the smarty pants who wants to post it in the comments, let me save you the trouble.]

Continue reading Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

The First Day of First Grade

Lexi's First Day of First GradeSo yesterday was the big first day of school. If summer wasn’t already done and gone, now it’s officially over. Gone are the lazy days of summer and now we’re back to a routine. Hopefully. It’s kind of odd. By 7:15 a.m. both Lexi and Abby are gone, we’ve already had breakfast and Milo and are looking at each other asking, “Now what?”

Yesterday Milo literally asked when we could have lunch. At 7:30 in the morning.

Milo starts “three school” next week, two days a week for two and a half hours, our attempt to give him something fun to do now that his playmate is in school all day. And to save my sanity. So far both of our mornings have involved me trying to be productive while Milo lies around. Today we went to the library, which would be a great routine for me. Though when I asked Milo if he wanted to look for books? “Nah.” He was too busy making friends and playing games with the magnetic triangle and circle. Which I guess is good.

It’s kind of hard getting into a new routine. I guess I haven’t thought about it much before, but I’m pretty big on routine. I do certain things in a certain order, whether it’s letting the dogs out or getting breakfast. I like my routine. If I don’t follow my routine or have a good one, things tend to skipped, like brushing your teeth. And that’s not cool. So far I’m floundering, desperately trying to find a routine. Yesterday I let the dogs out at 6:15 only to put them back in their crates when we walked to the bus stop. Today I left them in their crates until we got back from the bus stop. I guess all you can do is try and see what works.

Oddly enough, the routine seemed much more self-evident when there were two kids running amok. Now that there’s only one, it seems too open-ended. I guess I should be enjoying it. I’m just trying to find the rhythm, like a drummer that’s not quite on beat. It feels off.

 

Lexi’s Last Day of Kindergarten

168th Day of School - Last DayIt seems like only yesterday Lexi was heading off to her first day of kindergarten. She was over-the-top excited and Milo burst into tears.

Today was her last day of kindergarten. She’s older, wiser and taller.

The last day celebration included a cookout with Pete the naturalist at the Dodge Nature Center, featuring mini hot dogs (Milo ate half the pack) and pizza. Then we headed back to school to hear about some of her favorite things from throughout the year and every student received an award for following one of the school’s five overall rules.

Lexi was recognized for “safety,” because she always brought the right gear. I think that means I should get an award for sending my kid to school prepared (which usually meant stopping her on the way out the door and insist she wear something more appropriate). She also got the award for making sure everyone else was being safe too, which I’m pretty sure means she’s just bossy. She practices all day long on Milo, so it’s good to see it’s paying off.

It’s been a fun year watching Lexi grow. I think the social aspect of kindergarten—learning how to interact with other kids, following the rules, being prepared—has probably been the most important, though it’s also been cool to see her learning the academics. She’s learning how to read, slowly and with more and more confidence. Having a kindergarten teacher for a mom, some people expect reading to be a serious and early milestone in our house. But it’s actually counter-productive to teach kids to read too early (Abby could give you all sorts of reasons why—I’ll leave that blog post to her). It’s important to let them go at their own pace. And it’s been fun to see that with Lexi, to see her start to read signs in stores and read stuff over our shoulder. She’s still gaining confidence with reading books, but she’s getting there.

I’m also trying not to be too proud that one of her favorite things in school was writing.

Finally, the end of the school year means the end of a little project of mine, the Days of School. It started with me taking pictures on the first day of school (I have an addiction to feed). Then as we waited for the bus on the second and third days of school Lexi kept asking me to take pictures. So we started taking a picture every day. I think we only missed one or two days when Lexi actually went to school, and of course we missed all the days she was absent (and since she had mono in the fall, there were a lot of those). But in the end we have 151 pictures of Lexi going to kindergarten.

As we went outside to take her picture today I told her  we were taking her last picture. She told me, “Nope, you’re taking pictures in first grade too!” So we’ll see how long this thing continues.

Check out the Days of School:

Lexi’s First Day of School

Lexi's First Day of SchoolYesterday was Lexi’s first day of Kindergarten. Thankfully, she had a much less traumatic first day of school than I did.

Last week we went to the open house and met her teacher and got to go on a school bus ride. She was shy and nervous and I had to push her on to the bus. Made me a little worried for the first day of school, but when she came bounding up the stairs at 7 a.m., fully dressed and shouting, “Happytuesdayitsthefirstdayofschool!”, I knew it was going to be OK.

When the school bus came to pick her up she jumped and down and shouted, “There’s my bus!” Then Milo erupted in tears.

In the afternoon she hopped off the bus with a big smile and gave me a high five. School was great.

“Did you learn anything?”

“Nope.”

Awesome. The days of my children telling me nothing happened at school have already begun.

Continue reading Lexi’s First Day of School

Half Day Kindergarten

Tour of My Childhood: Scotch SchoolI’m a work-at-home dad. With a 2-year-old and an almost 5-year-old. That means I don’t get much work done.

In the past few months I’ve gone from one child napping in the morning and both children napping in the afternoon to only one child napping in the afternoon.

Work happens during that lone naptime, in the evenings and when I’m otherwise neglecting my children. In other words, not much work happens. And I have no social life.

I’ve been holding out hope for kindergarten. The Tuesday after Labor Day couldn’t come soon enough.

Until I learned our district only offers half day kindergarten. All day kindergarten, it turns out, is not mandated by the state. So if you want it, in our district at least, you pay for it. To the tune of nearly $3,000.

I wanted to cry when I heard the news.

I love my kids and it’s pretty great that I get to stay home with them. But the whining, complaining, fighting and general disorder are not my cup of tea. Unlike some people, this is not my calling.

I’m trying to console myself with the fact that half day kindergarten is better for kids, that it’s a more gradual introduction to school, that all day kindergarten is mostly filler and babysitting, that naptime may even resume when kindergarten starts.

But I was really counting on that babysitting.

Now I’ve got my sights set on 2014.

(As much as I dislike the district’s policy, in a time of budget cuts, salary freezes and rejected levies, it’s a pretty smart fiscal policy.)

First Day of School

Today is Yeshumnesh’s first day of school. She’s nervous. It’s the first day in a new school, in a new state, in a new grade, in a new everything. She’s very nervous.

I’m pretty anxious as well. As parents we haven’t done the whole first day of school thing before, and now we’re jumping straight into middle school. We’ve met teachers and toured the school and found lockers and all the rest, but we can’t help feeling like we’re forgetting something or we haven’t done everything we can to prepare Yeshumnesh. And I hate to keep asking about things and just bring up more to worry about: When is lunch? Do you want to bring a snack? Do you have a house key? Do you remember our address? Should you bring gym clothes?

It all gives me flashbacks to my own first days of school… (cue nostalgic rambling)

The Pillar: Kindergarten & 2nd GradeIt starts with my first day of kindergarten. I rode the school bus to Scotch Elementary School with my older brother, then an experienced second grader. I remember watching out the window as our bus picked up the other children.

When we got to school I stepped off the bus and had no idea where to go. So I followed my brother. My older, smarter, more confident brother. He knew everything. And I knew him. So I followed him.

He told me to go to my class. Then he turned around and walked away.

And I was alone.

I cried.

Continue reading First Day of School