Joe Nathan: Educators Creating Stronger System for Students

by Joe Nathan People like John Benson, Fred Easter, Cam Hedlund, Dan Hoverman, Jay Haugen, Linda Madsen and Colleen Wambach are on the correct side of what I think is the most important debate of many in public education: The question is “Can we, right now, create a much more effective system for students and [...]

by Joe Nathan

People like John Benson, Fred Easter, Cam Hedlund, Dan Hoverman, Jay Haugen, Linda Madsen and Colleen Wambach are on the correct side of what I think is the most important debate of many in public education: The question is “Can we, right now, create a much more effective system for students and a much more satisfying system for educators?  These folks say “yes.”

Joe Nathan

Mounds View Superintendent Dan Hoverman and former Irondale High School Principal Colleen Wambach have helped demonstrate what’s possible.  They, and teachers in the district, created a program that allows a wide range of students at Irondale to earn an Associate Arts degree, while still in high school. This can save students and families thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars.

Last year U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Irondale to praise and promote their efforts.  Mounds View received no federal, state or foundation grants to redesign their high school.  They used internal resources more effectively.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has hired Wambach to help other public school districts and a charter public school do something similar.  She’s working with Fred Easter, a deeply committed, insightful urban educator/community activist.  (Full disclosure: MDE has asked the Center for School Change to work with them.)

They are working with, among others, Austin, Anoka, Brooklyn Center, Bloomington, Cook County, Mounds View and St. Paul districts, the  Bug-o-nay-ge-shig school, and El Colegio charter.  Each recognizes that  many high school students are ready for more active engagement, and challenge.

Several years ago, Long Prairie Grey Eagle High School Principal Paul Weinzierl, and Central Lakes College President Larry Lundblad created a program called “4+2.”  This collaboration already has produced  30 high school students who earned “A.A” degrees before graduating high school.

Former Little Falls, now Eden Prairie, Superintendent Curt Tryggestad recognized the incredible, daily-growing knowledge available online.  So he reallocated some of Little Falls’ textbook dollars to purchase iPads for secondary schools, and helped arrange training to help students and teachers make effective use of that money.

Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen and his colleagues have created a brief YouTube video using cartoons to help explain the need for and possible features of  “A New Design.”  You can find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1bOIcnVI3g&feature=youtu.be

John Benson, for more than 30 years a public school teacher, former president of the Edina Federation of Teachers, is now a Minnesota state representative.  Benson, who represents Minnetonka and parts of western Hennepin County, was the chief Minnesota House author of one of the nation’s first “Self-governed/site governed” school laws.

Benson knows about the creativity and commitment of many classroom teachers.  He’s glad that Minneapolis teachers and parents created a “Site-governed” French Immersion elementary school.   Benson hopes many more school systems will encourage teachers and parents to create research-based, distinctive site-governed schools.

Cam Hedlund and Linda Madsen defy what some believe – that district and charter educators are competitors, and, as one district superintendent told me, “enemies.”  Hedlund, director of Lakes International Charter, Forest Lake, and Madsen, superintendent in Forest Lake, recently received a statewide award from the Humphrey School and the Bush Foundation.  It honors their collaboration.  Madsen told me, “It was an honor to receive this award.”  They deserved it.  They recognize each other’s strengths, and are using them to serve students.

Sometimes I’m told, “They won’t let us…”  “They” might be a school board, a superintendent, a union or a state department.  Folks like those named above spend more time creating, less time complaining.  They move things ahead.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions are welcome, and he can be reached at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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