This column originally was published by a series of ECM/Sun/Current Newspapers in late November, 2017
One of America’s finest traditions encourages us to pause late in the year, regardless of current controversies, to offer thanks. This year, in addition to giving thanks to God and my family, I’d like to recognize a few of the many wonderful families, students, educators and legislators who have helped Minnesota students and schools make progress.
Let’s begin with educators who reached across boundaries and barriers to put students first. Some of them come from national “Blue Ribbon” schools, selected by the U.S. Department of Education as among the finest in the country. Nell Collier, of Friendship Academy of the Arts (charter) in Minneapolis, Sam Fredrickson, Birchview Elementary School (district) in Plymouth, and Debra Lach, DaVinci Academy of Arts and Sciences (charter) in Ham Lake, agreed to share some of the strategies they’ve used to make a difference with district and charter educators.
Patti Haasch of Little Canada and Steve Allen of Cambridge, leaders of the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, organized and ran the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs STARS conference. This helps young people, sometimes described as “at risk” or “at promise” develop and be honored for vital leadership, presentation and employment skills. More information here: http://bit.ly/2oCt2dq
Another group of folks who worked across group lines produced opportunities for district educators to create new or refine existing public school options. Teacher union leaders like Don Sinner of Lakeville, Lynn Nordgren of Minneapolis and Denise Rodriguez of St. Paul worked with Lars Esdal of Education Evolving, Julene Oxton, of Lakeville Public Schools, and Lisa Snyder, formerly Lakeville superintendent, now director of EdVisions Schools (which serves as the fiscal agent for CSC, where I work). These “teacher led” schools providing opportunities not only for students and families, but they also allow educators to create the kinds of public schools that they think will be most helpful to students. This is another Minnesota innovation that is spreading throughout the country. More information here https://www.teacherpowered.org and here: http://edvisions.org/
We would have much less progress without legislators willing to work across party lines. So, thanks to Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley), Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), Rep. Roz Peterson, (R-Lakeville) and Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield). These folks put people above party.
Minnesota parents and students helped convince legislators to expand new dual high school/college credit opportunities. Young people like Catalina Anampa of Minnetonka and Aaliyah Hodge from St. Louis Park joined families like the Jensens from St. Francis and the Westras from Fulda. Kenneth Eban at Students for Education Reform-Minnesota, and Daniel Sellers of Ed-Allies, and their colleagues, helped organize Minnesotans to seek improvements not only for K-12, but also in colleges and universities.
Though we don’t always agree (and I don’t expect that), Josh Collins and Brenda Cassellius at the Minnesota Department of Education, Larry Pogemiller and Sandy Connolly at Minnesota Office of Higher Education, along with Denise Specht and Chris Williams at Education Minnesota, were extremely responsive when I asked for information. The same is true of district and chartered public school leaders throughout the state.
Finally, a huge thanks to readers of this column. Hundreds of you wrote to me. Whether you agreed, disagreed, questioned or challenged, you helped me learn and I hope helped make this column more useful. Best wishes to each of you and your families.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota Public School teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JoeNathan9249