Class sizes in the Northfield District’s schools: some questions

In Wednesday’s Northfield News: No quick fixes for class size troubles:

At a Feb. 12 school board meeting, several parents expressed concern over how big some classroom numbers have become, particularly at Greenvale Park Elementary… “We just don’t have the budget capacity right now (to lower the class sizes),” Richardson said.

In today’s (Saturday) Northfield News: Letter to the Editor from Diane Nead:

Concern over large classes was a big topic before the election. If the school board knew the levy increase would not be enough to reduce class sizes, then I think it was misleading not to inform the citizens of this before the election. Among friends, fellow parents and teachers I know, it was assumed that reducing class size would be first priority if the levy passed. Now that the election is over class size has moved to a “long-term issue”. I urge the school board to put the levy money to its best possible use by reducing class sizes in the school year. And I urge all those in the Northfield School District to contact the school board asking that they reduce class sizes before the money is spent elsewhere.

In the District’s levy referendum guide (PDF), distributed prior to the Nov. 7, 2006 election:

  • Your vote will make a difference for our students and for our communities. Reasonable class sizes, comprehensive programs, and high quality facilities are often cited as significant factors in helping to attract new students, families, businesses and industry to the area.
  • Voting YES means… Maintaining class sizes at the level for the next four to six years.

My questions:

  1. The District promised “reasonable class sizes” and at the same promised to maintain class sizes at the current level. Were they misleading us?
  2. Are the costs of Special Education a factor? It’s not mentioned in the Northfield News article.
  3. Why not consider reducing the busing of students to save money and put it towards reducing class sizes? In Wednesday’s StarTribune: Lessons in leg power: “Safe Routes to School is a new national program to help get kids to school the old-fashioned way. So far, 17 schools in Minnesota have won federal grants to encourage walking and biking.”



  1. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I feel somewhat the same way you do about the POSSIBLY misleading info pre the vote on the referendum. In one -on -one conversations, and in the LWV 4th Monday discussion at the library last fall, I definitely got the impression that by passing the referendum we would be correcting some problems such as large class sizes.
    However, when Kari Nelson (who I have the greatest respect for in how she handles her job as school board Pres.) came to a noontime “Youth Plus” meeting, with students and adults, at the highschool, she made it very clear that passing the referendum only allowed us to preserve the status quo, not improve it. This was somewhat of a “heads-up” to both the adults who were there and the teens who had asked the class size question.
    I guess the burden is on us, to ask the hard questions, and insist on the whole answer. Same burden we bear on local gov’t issues, where we often don’t get the whole answer.

    February 24, 2007
  2. Anne Bretts said:

    People often hear what they want to hear — and referendum leaders were happy to let them. But if you read the material or asked questions, it was clear that this was a hefty price increase to maintain the status quo.
    And now the spending is locked in, so the only option is re-allocating resources.
    Class sizes at the elementary level would be lower if the district made some hard choices about high school. For example, the state funding formula is based on a six-period day. Having seven periods so students can have more choices increases staffing and costs money.
    I don’t have a list of all the extra programs, but all the expenses that are beyond the base formula need to be balanced against their impact on class size. It’s that simple — and that hard.

    February 25, 2007
  3. Joy Riggs said:


    I worked on the levy campaign, and I’m also one of the Greenvale Park parents who attended the Feb. 12 school board meeting.

    Those who worked on the levy tried to make it clear that the money was to maintain the status quo. There was no bait and switch. The problem at Greenvale Park is that we are maintaining two separate programs, Contemporary and Companeros.

    The two third grade Contemporary classes have 31 students each and two third grade Companeros classes have 19 and 20 students. A similar inequity exists in the fifth grade classes. If we had only one program, like at Sibley, those kids could be redistributed into more equitably sized classes – which would be larger than people would like, but managable.

    But the school board is committed to maintaining the partial Spanish-immersion program, despite the negative impact it has on some kids and teachers in the Contemporary program. The group of parents asked the board two weeks ago to consider hiring an aide for the rest of the school year to help work with these Contemporary students, many of whom are behind academically or have special needs. The board turned us down. We also asked the board to take action to ensure that this inequitable situation doesn’t continue as this third grade class moves into the fourth and then fifth grades. We are waiting to see what, if any, improvements are made.

    I don’t disagree with the importance of children learning a second language. But it seems to me that in these times of tight budgets, there should be no sacred cows. Public education should give everyone an equal footing. You don’t need an advanced education degree to know that there’s a huge difference between having 20 kids in a class and having 31, especially if many of those 20 kids are high-achieving and many of the 31 have great needs.

    The district paid for a Companeros study two years ago, which the board shelved during the budget crisis. According to the study, the Companeros program ideally should be housed at one location, and it should reconfigured to provide a more ideal learning situation for the native Spanish speakers in the program. But following through on those recommendations would be expensive, even though it apparently would make for a much stronger program. So the board has continued the status quo.

    Board members discussed the elementary programming options at a work session last week but haven’t yet made an official decision on what will happen for 2007-08. I don’t envy them their job; there’s no easy answer, and any decision they make will certainly make some parents angry. I just hope they will take seriously their responsibility to provide a positive learning environment for all of the district’s students.

    February 26, 2007
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, Ann, Joy… thanks for your comments. Helps to clarify things.

    Joy wrote:

    You don’t need an advanced education degree to know that there’s a huge difference between having 20 kids in a class and having 31, especially if many of those 20 kids are high-achieving and many of the 31 have great needs.

    I wonder if school board members are thinking that the parents of those 20 will raise a bigger ruckus — and might even depart Greenvale for another school (via open enrollment or charter) — if Companeros is shut down than the parents of the 31 will for the ongoing status quo.

    A more creative solution might be for the board to ‘seed’ the opening of a K-5 charter school that’s Companeros-based. (The old Village School building is still available.) This would allow the board to provide a solution/choice to the taxpayers that’s still public and accountable to the board. And then it could equalize the class sizes at Greenvale and address the needs of those students who need attention now and aren’t getting it.

    Yes, the PPA (per pupil allotment) follows the family so the District ‘loses’ that revenue. But charter schools can generally operate more inexpensively salary-wise than district schools so the district still should come out ahead.

    What’s wrong with my logic? Honest, I’m genuinely interested!

    February 26, 2007
  5. Anne Bretts said:

    It all boils down to numbers, Griff. Are there enough interested families to support a whole Companeros school in a separate building, with the busing, food services, janitors and all the overhead that goes along with it? This is a pretty small district to manage a charter school and keep all its buildings open and healthy.
    It sounds like one option here might be to allow students who live near the attendance boundary to choose to go to the next nearest school if the classes there are smaller. School districts often use flexible boundaries to even out attendance from year to year.
    It’s also very reasonable to limit the Companeros program enrollment to one class if there would be a negative impact on other students to do otherwise. Magnet programs often have a lottery for enrollment. If parents lose the lottery in their home school and want to enroll in the program in another building, they should be allowed to do so if there’s room and they provide transportation.
    Another option for this year might be to get a real team of volunteers, including Campaneros parents, to help with the large classes. Headstart requires parent participation, so why couldn’t Companeros require parent commitment to help the school so their children can benefit.
    And if Joy’s right, there’s no good reason to have a bi-lingual program that benefits English-speaking children more than their Spanish counterparts. I’m hoping there’s a good explanation for that.

    February 26, 2007
  6. Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak said:

    Two more pieces of information regarding the imbalances in Companeros.

    First, the situation at Bridgewater is the reverse of that at Greenvale.
    The two fourth grade Companeros classes at Bridgewater are both in the low 30s, while the Contemporary classes are lower. During the push for the referendum, I asked Chris Richardson why the district didn’t address the imbalance by following the advice from the outside review, and uniting Companeros in one school. His answer was that it would add another $250,000 in busing expenses.
    Second piece of information: the children in Companeros are not necessarily “high achievers.” The kids range across many different skill levels, similarly to the kids in Contemporary.

    February 26, 2007
  7. Joy Riggs said:

    You’re right, Kathy, the situation is the opposite at Bridgewater for the fourth graders. According to class size info presented at the school board meeting, the 4th grade Companeros classes are at 31 and 33, and the Contemporary are at 19 and 17. I’m sure Bridgewater Companeros parents aren’t happy about that, either. Again, it speaks to the difficulty of balancing two programs within one school from year to year, particularly when funds are limited.

    I don’t have any information about the range of children’s skill levels in the programs at Bridgewater. I’m really just referring to the third grade Greenvale kids. I have seen the stats, and they indicate that the third grade Contemporary classes have many more students who are academically behind and many more who have special needs. That’s the main reason we’re concerned. It’s not just an issue of class size, but also of student needs. And this is the second year we’ve been in this situation. We’re frustrated, and we don’t want it to continue.

    February 26, 2007
  8. kiffi summa said:

    What a “joy” to have Joy Riggs back on the scene in a journalist’s role. As always, a thorough, clear presentation of a situation, with facts , from a person who has obtained them through participation. (A huge loss for journalism in Northfield when Joy left the NFNews, some years ago).
    What makes me instantly curious in this situation of imbalance between Companeros/Contemporary, and its reversal in the two elementary schools, is why is it reversed? Is there a differing philosophy between the two principals, or what ?? I would assume that the school administration/school board would have a single policy governing the structure of a program, throughout the district.
    Can anyone explain?

    February 27, 2007
  9. Anne Bretts said:

    If the program is aimed more at English speakers than Spanish speakers and you have more English speakers at one school than the other, it would be logical that enrollment would be higher in the school with more English speakers.
    In general class size issues always are tricky at the elementary school level, where a statistically small increase in overall school enrollment can translate to a big problem in a single class or grade level. I have seen administrators who tracked a “bubble” of high enrollment in one grade that put pressure on the system all the way from kindergarten to high school, where it was absorbed in the larger school population.
    Moving extra children to another school to even things out is never a popular suggestion, and it’s one that’s complicated when siblings are in grades where there is no problem.
    It does seem that a fixed enrollment for Companeros with a lottery is the fair answer, thought not a popular one I’m sure.

    February 27, 2007
  10. Joy Riggs said:

    Thanks for your kind words, Kiffi. It’s nice to be missed. And Anne, I appreciate the comments and suggestions you’ve made. Placing a cap on Companeros is an option the board is considering – which is interesting because there used to be one.

    Six years ago, when our daughter was preparing to enter first grade, there were three elementary options – Contemporary; Companeros, which was offered at Bridgewater only; and LINK, which was offered only at GVP and was a multi-age, project- and literacy-based program kind of similar to what they do at Prairie Creek. After studying the options, we signed her up for Companeros, only to discover she didn’t win the lottery. We then put her in LINK.

    Unfortunately, having two programs at GVP had created some of the same problems we’re seeing now – the Contemporary classes were larger, more of the higher-achieving kids were in LINK, and these issues made it more difficult for teachers in different programs to work together as a building staff.

    The district got rid of LINK after my daughter’s second-grade year. At the same time, it decided to expand Companeros, which had become more popular, and offer it at GVP as well as Bridgewater. Apparently the board had planned to introduce it more slowly, and add one grade per year, but because of budget cuts and redrawn neighborhood boundaries, it expanded it more quickly, which I think contributed to the current unequal distribution of students in the third, fourth and fifth grades at GVP (and probably affected Bridgewater as well).

    Whew. If I haven’t lost you already, here’s some more background on Companeros. It was started as a grade 1-5 choice program for native English speakers. Students begin the program in first grade, and usually aren’t able to enter into it after second grade.

    The program is partial-immersion, which means that students receive instruction in Spanish for half of the day (science and math) and English the other half. Although there are other districts that have full-immersion programs (most if not all are larger than Northfield), I don’t think there are any other Minnesota districts that have a program like ours. (Either we’re groundbreaking, or no one else finds it managable)

    Since the program’s inception, Northfield’s Latino population has really grown. Here are the school stats for 2005-06, which are the most recent ones posted on the Minnesota Department of Education web site:

    GVP had 538 students; 16 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian, 1 percent black, 12 percent limited English proficient, 12 percent special education, 27 percent free and reduced lunch

    BW had 614 students; 11 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian, 2 percent black, 9 percent LEP, 12 percent special ed, 25 percent free and reduced lunch

    Sibley had 437 students; 5 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian, 0 percent black, 5 percent LEP, 14 percent special ed, 14 percent free and reduced lunch

    As a result of this population change, and because native Spanish-speakers benefit from having some instruction in Spanish, the program now serves both native English and native Spanish speakers.

    The district hired some people to conduct a study of the Companeros program, and the results were presented to the board in February 2005. I got a copy of the study recently from Donita Delzer at the district office.

    Here are some points from the study that jumped out at me. I’d be interested to know if any of these things have changed during the past two years.

    •”The data show that although the Companeros program benefits Spanish-speaking learners in some ways, in other ways it is not providing the best learning environment for Spanish-dominant learners based on best practices grounded in research.”

    •”There is a marked gap between the achievement levels of the Hispanic children and the native English-speaking children within the Companeros program … we suggest that it is this achievement gap that deserves district attention and needs to give rise to ongoing reflection about how Northfield educators and families might best begin to close this gap.”

    •During classroom observations, the conductors of the study noted the infrequent use of Spanish by students in situations where they would have expected more speaking of the language. “While we understand that Companeros is a partial immersion program, student use of the immersion language did not resemble the quantity and quality of language use we have observed in other partial immersion programs around the country.”

    Here are some key recommendations from the study:
    •Keep the partial-immersion program, but house it at one site, and conduct the literacy instruction in Spanish, not English.
    •Seriously consider providing some level of foreign language (perhaps as a special) in the the other elementary schools
    •Begin the immersion program in kindergarten, and continue it through 8th grade, with at least two course offerings taught in Spanish each year.

    Of course, implementing all these recommendations would cost money, which I’m sure is why the district shelved the study for two years. But I think it would be worthwhile for the board to address some of these issues as it considers the future of the elementary programs.

    February 27, 2007
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    Just an FYI. I’ve alerted school board members Diane Cirksena, Mike Berthelsen, and Kari Nelson to this discussion thread… and Supt. Chris Richardson, too.

    February 27, 2007
  12. Anne Bretts said:

    This discussion opens up so many interesting points.
    I guess the basic question is what benefit does the program provide? Are the children fluent enough to have a lifelong skill? I had four years of Spanish in high school and retained little over time.)
    Is there some other documented educational result from being in the program for a year, or two, or three?
    If there is a benefit, should it be limited to a few children by lottery or the good fortune of being in the right attendance area? And are English speakers getting more help in learning Spanish than Spanish speakers are in learning English?
    I haven’t heard compelling reasons for the program, although I am not opposed to it on its face. I’m just curious about the justification for it, since it appears it causes hardship for other students.

    February 27, 2007
  13. Cynthia Child said:

    I know little about the situation however as an outsider (not having children) I wonder why don’t we charge extra for participation in companeros? It seems to me to be an added value over the contemporary program. In addition, I imagine that it (companeros) is more expensive?

    February 27, 2007
  14. Cynthia Child said:

    Yes! On the Safe Routes to Schools project! That program just came up at a Center for Sustainability meeting. Apparently the school district began to look in to it but then the project got tabled? Perhaps I am not remembering clearly and someone can set me straight.

    February 27, 2007
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    Kathy and Cynthia, thanks for joining in the conversation.

    Kathy wrote:

    During the push for the referendum, I asked Chris Richardson why the district didn’t address the imbalance by following the advice from the outside review, and uniting Companeros in one school. His answer was that it would add another $250,000 in busing expenses.

    Cynthia, was there any estimate on the amount of savings to the Northfield District if they adopted the Safe Routes to Schools project?

    February 27, 2007
  16. Beth Breiland said:

    Hey, All! Joy is my sister-in-law and she thought I might be interested in this discussion. As always, she was right. Since I’m new to the discussion I’ll give you a little of my background. I’ve been teaching at Farmington High School for 9 years, I graduated from St. Olaf in 1997, and I’ve lived in Northfield since 1990. I also have 2 children who attend GVPES. It seems that this discussion began as a concern about class sizes and has morphed into a discussion about Companeros. I’m not quite sure where to begin at this point except that I truly believe two things are very important here.

    The first is that smaller class sizes k-12 are necessary. At a time when budgets have cut adults out of buildings as student populations have grown decreases the level of supervision in all areas of a building where a variety of incidents may occur (bathrooms, cafeterias, hallways, etc.). Also, as test scores become more important to districts and of greater concern to parents, there’s little time for one teacher to give adequate timely feedback to students, especially in writing, and to address each student’s individual educational needs.

    The second thing I truly believe is that teachers want to do a good job. If accountants would commit to smaller, manageable class sizes teachers would figure out how to teach those students with fewer resources available. My colleagues might run me out of town for saying this but there’s no point in investing in the best software if the computer labs are too small for any of the classes to fit in them. It doesn’t make sense to invest in hundreds of thick texts if students can’t read them and teachers don’t have the time to teach them because they’re simply trying to manage an orderly setting in which the students are well aware that they outnumber us. Sorry about the hemingway-esque sentence.

    Anyway, my point is that I don’t believe it’s about any particular program or the makeup of the needs of the students in each class. The glory and the challenge of being a public school teacher is that no 2 classes are the same. However, smaller class sizes allow teachers to more quickly manage behavior issues, address individual needs of students, and create a relationship with each student . Put that formula together and students learn. I think that’s priceless. Does this add to the conversation or deter?

    February 27, 2007
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    That’s a great addition to the discussion, Beth. Thanks much for chiming in.

    That name of yours is familiar: Breiland? Any relation to Sandy, my eldest son’s Kindergarten teacher in 1981?

    February 27, 2007
  18. Holly Cairns said:

    Adding my two cents to the class size discussion.

    I think school boundaries add to class size problems. For example, hypothetical: 35 kids are in second grade at GVP. That’s two classes of 17. But what does the district do if there are 30 kids in a grade? That’s two classes of 15. Too small.

    Similarly , what if there are 29? That’s a huge class or one and a half classes. Add contemporary and companeros program choices and the matter gets more complicated. Too bad people don’t like to be sent to new schools each year (and so the boundaries could be flexible).

    Thinking back to when my kids were in elementary school– We chose the contemporary program because we like “book learning.” I won’t go into that.

    Anyway, we ran into the fact that one of our daughters was possibly going to be placed into a “combined” classroom. After digging around we learned “combined” classrooms were inconsistent– one year our kid might be in with that pool, and the next year not. We didn’t like it. Combined, and then the next year not?

    The worst of it was (to me) that the combined classroom teachers didn’t seem to have curriculum help… . They were just expected to take care of all the learners, who were in two grades. Wow. Superhero teachers, or what?

    Anyway, with all this classroom discussion going on– let us remember that there are bad alternatives that we have replaced with a slightly better system… or haven’t we?

    Come to think of it, are there still combined classrooms? AND– let’s hope we don’t resurrect the combined classroom program to fix any problems we might be running into. It sounds good but without curriculum help and consistency it didn’t work. IMHO.

    Okay, thinking back to the levy and people wanting us to pass it (thank goodness for those people who worked hard to help with that, BTW) I heard that sometimes there aren’t enough desks in a room to accommodate all of the learners in one class–

    SO, since a school board member might read this, what IS the largest elementary class (one teacher)in our district? And what is the largest high school class (one teacher, and not including any auditorium classes, if we have any of those). Thanks

    February 28, 2007
  19. Beth Breiland said:

    Thanks for the reply, Griff! Yes, Sandy Breiland is my mother-in-law.


    February 28, 2007
  20. Lisa said:

    Dear Group,
    Great discussion and lots of facts. Thanks Joy for getting those numbers together. I am, however, NOT going to wait to see what the board does regarding class size. I am painstaking putting together an article to send to the editor and plan to attend board meetings to show I have not gone away! Just because they denied us an aide, I am not going to stop advocating for these children. Too many are not getting a fair crack at a decent education for two years now!

    Someone mentioned that the Companeros parents would make a lot of noise if it were cut. Ya, they would. And some of them might leave. But you know what, if I can possibly swing it, we won’t be there next year due to class size. I love GVP. We have had great teachers each year. But even a great teacher can only do so much with 31 children, 25% of whom read below grade level, 8% have educational behavioral disorder and 21% have behavioral concerns which are not being addressed (non-serviced behavior concern.) Right now I am making as much noise as I can and trying to take as many people with me as I can.

    To throw another dilemma into the rink: the director of Reading Recovery wants to stop funding the program. The Title 1 dollars fund both Reading Recovery for the 1st graders and the group instruction for the 2nd & 3rd graders. Some schools don’t qualify for the grant and receive support for Reading Recovery from the district (Sibley, for instance.) Our district is considering cutting Reading Recovery. This would mean that instead of one-on-one, the first graders would be in groups of 6. I see this as actually a part of the class size problem. As the class sizes increase, more and more children are going to be in need of extra reading help. If we cut the Reading Recovery for the 1st graders, then the child’s reading difficulty won’t be nipped in the bud, and the need for support becomes pronged.

    See ya’ll at the next board meeting March 12th.,
    Actually the next board meeting is a work session on March 5th 7:30 at the H.S. library. No open mike here, no input. You just have to sit on your hands and listen. This can be hard on ones health.

    February 28, 2007
  21. Lisa said:

    Holly, I think I can address a few of your questions. The issue of school boundaries is that the boundaries would become “soft.” Meaning that if only 30 kids were in a grade, the boundaries would shift slightly to gain enough children to create two classes of, lets say 18 or 22. Those families on the borders could be switching schools every other year!

    I don’t know the board’s take on combined classrooms. To the best of my knowledge, there are none at this time in the grade schools. They were used as a last resort to get everyone in a class with a teacher. If they could possible get the kids out of that situation the next year, they did so. It wasn’t a program, (like Link was) but a stopgap measure to keep functioning.
    Regarding the Levy: The money from the levy does not become available until next school year, as does the state money. So although the levy passed this year, no one has seen a $ yet. Because our district is so far in debt, we shall receive no benefits, no reinstated programs etc. The levy money simply has given the district the ability to move forward without making even more cuts. Until they get this debt paid off, there won’t be any increases anywhere. – like new desks, unless that was already part of the buildings’ budget. Sad isn’t it?

    Believe it or not, the school board, at this point, does not have a cap on class sizes. I have heard of electives at the H.S. that go up unto the 40’s! At BW there is a Companeros class of 33 4th graders! (Because so many families didn’t want to switch to GVP to continue in Companeros.) It is scary to think that a grade school class could go up over 33 possibly. I can’t imagine what the Superintendent is thinking, unless he just didn’t look at the numbers before the fall. Seems to me the Comp. class at BW should have closed at a certain number and the rest should have had to either go to GVP or drop out of the program.

    That’s my 2 cents worth for today.

    March 2, 2007
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    Good to have more voices here… thanks for the contributions, Holly and Lisa. It’s a complex situation and every little bit of input like yours helps.

    Lisa, we don’t do event announcements here on Locally Grown but does. It would be helpful to submit a story there alerting citizens to the upcoming school board meetings.

    Feel free to link to this blog post discussion inviting people to join this conversation, too.

    March 2, 2007
  23. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for the information regarding class size.

    No cap on class size? Ridiculous. Of course, depending on the leadership and the philosophy, a cap on class size could just result in fewer elective choices rather than more teacher hours… I taught for eight years, and classes of 36 just about killed me. I wouldn’t go back to teaching in a regular classroom if it paid $80,000 a year unless most kids really wanted to learn. (I had a master’s degree when I left, and would have made $34,000, by the way.)

    As far as levy dollars– hmm, that’s right. No money for a while. My father was a school board chair during a teacher strike (southern metro area school district in the 70’s)– and I remember him pining about how a levy or a bond (“b” for building) could pass but there would be no dollars for what seemed like a lifetime.

    I also remember him saying “if it is important, the district will find a way.” It’s all priorities.

    March 2, 2007
  24. Beth Breiland said:

    Hi, Everybody! I’m not sure how long we can keep this conversation going, but as soon as we start talking about funding in public education the answers never come easily. I’m sure you all know that the largest chunk of any public school’s budget is teachers’ salaries. Although as Holly says each teacher makes a modest salary, combined these salaries equal millions of dollars in a budget. Since most districts have had to make cuts for the last 5 years in a row (at least), now is not a time when any school board is going to commit itself to class size caps. So, we have science labs in the high school built to safely accommodate X number of students, but we have Y number enrolled beyond that number. Since the law requires the district to educate any student who walks through its doors, the science classes wind up being larger than they can truly accommodate. Same is true in any class K-12.
    Here’s the other kicker: schools are currently working on their budgets for next year. The legislature won’t make a decision about school funding money until at least May, and that would be surprising since the last 3 sessions haven’t made school funding decisions until at least June. Teachers who won’t be asked to return to a district will be given their pink slips usually by April 1 (interesting choice of date, isn’t it?). But districts are always enrolling new students and losing others. It’s a crap shoot as to where all the numbers will finally fall. It is possible in Northfield schools, where enrollment shifts quite frequently, that in September the seventh grade class has 45 more students than had been expected (just a random example), but all the teachers have been hired. Yes, the state money follows the student but local taxes are carrying the brunt of school dollars now and those don’t catch up until the following year. Plus, rearranging schedules is a nightmare that is never satisfying for everybody. So, as Holly says, none of this is pleasant for our board members, but it is their responsibility to our students to make the best decisions for these kids. Boards have to start making a commitment to keeping quality teachers and making cuts elsewhere. Or, and this is something they’ve been telling leaders of extra curricular activities for years, find creative ways to generate more revenue beyond increasing taxes and relying on the state. Does anyone know if there are any laws out there prohibiting school districts from fundraising or looking for donations to beef up its general fund?

    Beth Breiland

    March 3, 2007
  25. Lisa Olson said:

    Beth, you make many good points. The H.S. and M.S. I believe are pretty stuck with large numbers as long as so many choices are offered. The reason class size was brought into the spotlight was the grade school classes and the inequity between the Companeros and contemporary classes. At GVP in the 3rd grade we have about 100 students and four teachers. No problem, about 25 per class – perfect. But because of the way Companeros is handled, there are two Contemporary classes of about 31 each, while the Companeros classes are at 19 and 20. BW sees the opposite situation in the fourth grade with 33 in a Companeros class and 17 in a Contemporary. For the grade school classes, the issue is equity among the resources we already have. No more money needs to be spent to even out the class sizes. We don’t even have to cut Companeros, but put a cap on its numbers. Why is it that Companeros is a given and not a luxury? If offering it creates such a disadvantage for so many students, it seems to me that it should be caped! Sixty-two students sat through a year of school in large, high needs classes. The excellent teachers have done all within their power to serve the needs of all their students. But that is not possible with so many children.

    At this point I think I am ‘preaching to the choir.’

    When I originally wrote Dr. Richardson about our class size issue, he pointed out that it was an issue across the district and that our problem was not unique. As if that was an excuse. I wrote back saying that if it is a problem across the district, we have an even bigger problem than I realized. I know we are strapped for funds, I know we don’t see levy money till next year, I know the state money doesn’t come in until next school year (if at all) but how is it that we think we have the means to offer such costly choices if we can’t offer a quality education to everyone?

    March 4, 2007
  26. Lisa Olson said:


    Upon reviewing comments here, I have to disagree with your comment regarding the make up of a class. I believe it can make a huge difference. The 5th grade at GVP also has large numbers (about 30 I believe), but functioning as a class is less of an issue there than it is in this particular GVP 3rd grade. Our 60 to 62 students have
    25% on the under performing list for reading
    13% Title 1
    10% OHI
    8% EBD – emotional behavioral disorder
    21% non-serviced behavior concerns
    16% not adequately serviced academic concerns
    33% high flyers

    I love your attitude of differences make life interesting and that that is part of what makes teaching so exciting and challenging, but there is a point after which the challenge becomes detrimental to the children’s education. I hesitated to ‘print’ these stats earlier – just didn’t want to use labels. But varied abilities do make a difference in class room personalities.

    March 4, 2007
  27. Holly Cairns said:

    Lisa and Beth,

    Thanks for bringing up so many good points regarding class size.

    I am glad to read about it in the paper and here on this blog (good job To me, attention to the issue shows that people care about our kids and education.

    And, what if no one cared about class size? What would happen over time? My hope is that our board does value quality education and isn’t in the practice of looking for the easy way out. Like the combined classrooms seemed to be…

    Tough situation, though.

    Take the money from sports/activities: I value extra curriculars, and don’t want to see kids with less money being the ones that are hurt by participation fees.

    Have less teachers or keep hiring new young ones: I value good teachers and don’t want to see some struggle with a pink slip because there might not be any money.

    Let it go and have huge classes: Most of all, though, I value my kids getting good help in the classroom… manageable class sizes are essential to good learning. Our poor teachers with 40 kids in a room or 33 elementary kids. Geez. That’s terrible. When we were kids it wasn’t like that– at least for me.

    March 4, 2007
  28. Beth Breiland said:

    Me again. Lisa, I’m so glad you disagree with me. Ideally, I disagree with me. However, the reality is that teachers have no idea what type of students will be in their classroom until the children show up. We are public school teachers. We teach anyone assigned to us to the best of our ability. Joy or Lisa, you both seem to have current stats on these students, what is the overall makeup of the 3rd grade class in Northfield public schools? I wonder if one of the challenges for GVP is that it’s accommodating an excess number of students with needs than the other 2 buildings? Does anyone have accesss to stats on aids, paras, and special ed teachers in each of these buildings? All teachers benefit when other professionals are available to assist them.


    March 4, 2007
  29. Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak said:

    Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to gather hard numbers and stats.

    One more bit of information on Companeros at BW – the numbers aren’t high there because of “parents who aren’t willing to move.” About a third of the kids in the fourth grade class were at GWP through 2nd grade, until the district mandated them to change, at the time all families were asked to go to their districted schools (effective 2005-06 school year). The change was made to cut on busing expenses. Families were asked to change schools even if they had not relied upon buses to take their kids to GVP.

    It seems one workable solution, more easily achievable in the short term, would be more classroom aides for the district as a whole, who could then be assigned to the different classrooms at the different elementary schools when the inevitable enrollment bubbles occur. That would be a less disruptive system than the soft boundaries, and bouncing families around between elem. schools.

    March 4, 2007
  30. Lisa Olson said:

    Beth, I only have the stats on our 62 students because the teachers put them together to take to the board. I know from one of the board meetings that the ratio of children to certified teacher in the building is 15 to 1. But that is obviously misleading as many of those teachers are specialists or work with special ed.

    One of the reasons the Contemporary classes are more loaded with the challenging children is because they wouldn’t be able to handle the more challenging task of learning subject matter in another language. Some moved in recently and didn’t want to jump into the 3rd year of Companeros or they just chose Contemporary as we did.

    Our issue is the combination of these challenging children and the large numbers. With that many challenges in the room, discipline must be pretty tight, which means individual learning styles often cannot be taken into account. A class of 18 with 25% reading below grade level would function much more smoothly than a class of 31!

    As a parent, I have no more access to any stats. Joy? Can you work any of your magic? Sometimes the board passes out info at a meeting. That’s were I got the class size numbers of all the other grade school classes in the district.

    Thank you for being so gracious about disagreeing. The best decisions are made when people disagree and different angles of an issue are aired.

    FYI I am a parent, but have taught in the past. Subbed some (yuck) and now teach private violin lessons. I am in awe of all teachers who teach year after year. I love teaching, but I did not have the stamina for the job.

    Kathy, My understanding of the BW Companeros was that even though the boundaries were changed, some of the BW parents didn’t want their children to be switched to GVP so they opted for open enrolment which then skewed the numbers. I have heard this as ‘hear say’ and at a board meeting from Dr. Richardson.

    We, at GVP asked for an aid for hte remainder of this year for our two 3rd grade classes. I believe this would be of help, but still only be a bandaid approach to a larger problem. If they end up going with this solution, then so be it. It would be better than nothing, which is what we have now. But even an aid, can’t do what smaller classes could do for these grade school children. (Ok, I’m preaching to the choir again!)

    March 4, 2007
  31. Deb said:

    Hope all of you don’t mind if I join the conversation. Everyone has had some wonderful ideas, great comments, and an open mind to all suggestions. I hope the board will respond the same way.

    I hate to add more wood to the fire, but I was thinking about the situation at GVP for the 3rd graders moving up to 4th grade. I’m not sure if anyone has thought of this or if it makes a difference, but we will be moving 4 classrooms of 3rd grade to only 3 available classrooms of 4th grade. Another Companeros teacher will have to be found and another classroom made available. The only extra room at this point, it the computer lab. We can not move a third grade teacher up because we have 4 second grades coming up. This situation will happen again when they move to 5th grade.

    Again, I’m not sure these are valid points for this discussion, but it appears there are more issues at GVP for the 3rd grade class. The school is going to have to look at the Companeros program very closely.

    Thanks for letting me join in.

    March 4, 2007
  32. Lisa Olson said:

    Good point Deb. I would bet that the board doesn’t know about that. I didn’t and I’m in the school on a regular basis. I would think that if they need four class rooms for next year’s 4th grade, Jeff Roland would have to step up and say something. Are there only three 4 grade teachers? (Why don’t I know this?)

    March 5, 2007
  33. Paul Fried said:

    Great discussion! And it’s branching out in many directions!

    I’m a GVPES dad and spouse of a GVPES teacher who has taught in LINK and Companeros, and who now teaches in contemporary. My daughter is in one of those small 3rd grade Companeros classrooms. We like the program, but like others, we are concerned about class size issues.

    Some observations on how the discussion is branching out (and might have become several interesting and diverse threads if threaded discussion were possible):

    1. Class size as it relates to teaching effectiveness. If you talk to GVP teachers with classes of 30 or more, and their colleagues who do not, you’ll find they have much richer and more complex views than just class size.

    2. How the presence of Companeros causes/skews some of the class size issues, especially at GVPES.

    3. Companeros as a more expensive program, and how that relates to fair use of tax dollars and resources (is it fair for other kids to get the bargain program, and then be denied extra aides needed in the classroom?).

    4. Choice programs as “brain drain” or “talent drain” in relation to students and parents. Some say it skims away the cream of the crop, or that it removes the leaven from the larger batch of dough. The same thing might be said of charter schools. Statistics on such things as test scores and children who get help with free lunches are sometimes used in support of this view, as well as anecdotal evidence from teachers and parents. Many teachers inside and outside choice programs have confirmed this. Choice programs are probably correctly seen as drawing away at least some of the more high-achieving children, as well as some of the more assertive-consumer parents who are on average more actively involved in their child’s education. This also means parents who are often, pure and simple, more likely to volunteer in the classroom. (A class of 31 well-behaved children with many active parent volunteers would be much easier to handle than the same sized class solo; and we now have at GVPES two third grade classes of 19 or 20 with smart kids and active parents).

    5. Would Companeros parents be more likely to rally in support of the choice program, and to sway the School Board if possible to save it, than a single parent, working long hours at minimum (or near-minimum) wage, whose child in a third-grade classroom of 31 gets a free lunch at GVP because their family’s income qualifies for it? Of course.

    Joy Riggs commented that in a time of tight budgets, there should be no sacred cows. I tend to agree. Most of the discussion swirls around class size only, but the elephant in the living room has to do with choice programs and what they do not only regarding an unfair distribution of tax dollars, but also by taking the leaven out of the dough.

    6. Would the old Village School building work to house a Companeros magnet or charter school? I think it’s probably too small. If the school board took the (very unlikely at this point) path of ending the program, and letting a smaller charter school (limited to a very small size) take some committed fraction of the current Companeros program, sure, it could work, but I don’t think it will happen.

    7. Internal Companeros issues:
    As Joy notes, there are issues with Companeros itself, as indicated by the Companeros study, that have not been addressed yet: English speakers are not speaking Spanish as much as expected, and native Spanish-speakers are not doing as well as they might.
    – The program was initially designed as Spanish for English speakers, and native Spanish-speakers were only admitted at first when kids dropped out in later years because of attrition and because the program was too hard for some, so they were used to bolster shrinking numbers and offset class-size inequity in the upper grades.
    – The Companeros program could have been (and perhaps still could be) redesigned in a cooperative learning model, where native Spanish-speakers become literate in their first language (which is shown to have good effects on later development), and where native Spanish-speakers help teach Spanish to native English-speaking children, and native English speakers help teach English to the Native Spanish-speakers.
    – Instead, we have a partial immersion program where the native Spanish-speakers are pulled out of the larger group each day for special help to develop their English skills. If it ever works as a cooperative model, it’s only by accident, so it’s an untapped resource. Otherwise, the native Spanish-speaking kids are just along for the ride, which is great if they and the parents want them to become literate in the first language, but still not ideal.

    So we now have a Companeros program with a bunch of recommendations for improvement, which we’re not acting on, and we also have class-size, and yeast-removal, and funding-equity issues….

    More disclaimer-stuff:
    My son is now at the Middle School, and he was a LINK student. As I said above, my daughter is in 3rd grade Companeros at GVPES. We like it. But unlike some Companeros parents, I’m confident that she’d get a good education no matter where she was placed, and I have no inclination to defend Companeros as a sacred cow. I’d rather see the district deal with the elephant in the living room than dance around it and deal only with class size.

    Thanks for the discussion. I may add more comments later.

    March 8, 2007
  34. Paul Fried said:

    I wanted to add:

    The statistics about GVP classes are wonderful and helpful, but so are the questions about comparing those to the *average* profile in other classes:

    – How do those GVP contemporary 3rd grade class statistics compare to 3rd grade at Sibley?
    – To Bridgewater, inside or outside Companeros?
    – To the Companeros program at GVP?
    – And if there was no companeros program, how might GVP 3rd grade statistics compare to Sibley or Bridgewater?

    30 or 31 kids is still a lot, but for the class profile statistics to be most meaningful, you do need the comparisons.

    (Which would probably justify more help at GVP in large classes).

    If there were more high-needs kids in general at one school, I agree with those teachers and parents who say this would justify the hiring of extra aides for the school with greater needs.

    And if the problem persists, you could aim for for smaller class sizes at GVP next year.

    So in other words, if GVP, in general, had more high-needs kids, next year it might justify (just as an example) three 4th grade contemporary classes of 20 each instead of two with 30 each? (I know the numbers in a given year are never so neatly divisible, hence the proposed but also problematic fix of “soft” boundaries, etc.)

    If Sibley and Bridgewater had fewer high-needs kids and 28 in each classroom, would teachers and parents cry “foul” if the higher-needs kids at GV were divided into classrooms of 20 each?

    March 8, 2007
  35. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Paul!

    I am wondering what you meant by:

    1. Class size as it relates to teaching effectiveness. If you talk to GVP teachers with classes of 30 or more, and their colleagues who do not, you’ll find they have much richer and more complex views than just class size.

    Maybe you can’t elaborate on that more.

    Anyway, right– comparing the elementary schools to each other. Why do that? To see if boundary lines need to be changed on a permanent basis? Otherwise, I think it just comes down to numbers.

    GVP might have one issue that isn’t numbers related– ratio of equipment/computers/etc. to kids. That’s another story, I guess. Or is that numbers/program related?

    And, comparing companeros program to “what if we didn’t have one”– good idea. That will help to see if a change in the program or eliminating it would make a difference, overall.

    I think sometimes people make changes to accommodate “noisemakers”, now, but the change results in different problems down the line. Hopefully we’ll use foresight and end up with a system that doesn’t need fixing every year.

    Let’s get away from asking teachers to be superheros, and let’s not have kids in stopgap situations. After all, we only get one chance to educate these kids. And then they are gone.

    Thanks for the link to NNews article, Griff. I like the fund idea.

    Cap on Companeros? From what I remember, kids can’t just enter into companeros if they don’t enter it the first year it is available. So, a cap would have to be done the very first year the kids enroll– look at overall numbers for the grade, and then decide how many companeros kids there might be as compared to link and traditional… something tells me they already do that…

    And, Doesn’t busing students to a special companeros location result in more busing cost? I don’t like that separation, anyway, for some reason. I like people mixing on the playground and at lunch, and teachers mixing in the lounge…

    March 8, 2007
  36. Holly Cairns said:

    But one more thing– and I wish you luck with the companeros etc issue…

    Class sizes and elective choices at NMS and NHS are really what concerns us.

    March 8, 2007
  37. Paul Fried said:

    Hi, Holly.

    What I mean by the remark you quote is that the Greenvale teachers recognize the class size issue, but I think many of them are also concerned about many more of the other, inter-related issues that have already been voiced in this discussion (if I have a dim understanding at all, I think it’s from trying to pay attention to what the many good GVP teachers are saying).

    And I do think it helps to compare the schools on class profile statistics (which has already been done on a few occasions) because that’s part of the reasoning behind the justification for hiring aides to help at GVPES: The classes are not only overcrowded, but have statistics showing higher-than-average numbers of kids with various special needs. You can only prove “higher than average” if you compare to other schools, especially the larger classrooms at other schools, or else they’ll be demanding aides for reasons of equity as well.

    One letter to the editor in the NNews that I noticed probably had only good intentions, but implied that you just need good teachers, which is what the writer claimed Bridgewater and Companeros there have had, even with large class sizes. The message seemed to say, accept the large classes and just be better teachers, you complaining, less-able GVP staff. This misses the point if the statistics on special needs kids are accurate, and the GVP teachers are great. Walk a mile in their shoes before you say such things – that’s what I’m thinking as I read such letters. But that’s just me.

    March 8, 2007
  38. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Paul,

    Yes, I thought the same about what the recent letter to the editor might be saying– it seemed to say that you can have MONGO, OVERSTUFFED classes but if you have a good teacher all will be okay– perhaps it was also saying that if there is a problem, it must be the teacher.

    But I must admit, the letter wasn’t clear about a few things and so I was left wondering what it was all about.

    One thing seemed obvious to me– the person didn’t seem to think like I do. It seemed like a “Who cares about class size– good teachers make it work and that’s okay, even if there are a few problems” letter.

    Do you think there is a majority out there who thinks like that?

    BTW, Why isn’t the high school and middle school class size being discussed, here? No interest? No noisemakers?

    March 9, 2007
  39. Paul Fried said:

    Holly – thanks for keeping up the exchange.

    Do I think there’s a majority who thinks good teachers just have to make it work no matter the class size? No, but I think this is a vocal minority and might sometimes be a sub-set of the conservative, anti-union types who don’t mind if school budgets shrink because they assume that we spend too much, and that cuts will force us back to basics, clarify real priorities, etc. Gold refined in the fire of hardship and all that. There’s some truth there, sure, but it misses the bigger picture. We certainly won’t attract the brightest and best to the teaching profession, and won’t hold on to them, if we treat teachers in the district this way, giving them large classes with many special needs kids, and no life-line. And some of the anti-union vocal minority (just among those I know) include folks who make six-figure incomes. Pay teachers that well, and then make those sort of demands of them, but don’t treat them this way. Otherwise you reap what you sow, and you’ll get deteriorating quality of education.

    Regarding high school and middle school class size: I think there are fewer parent and teacher noisemakers because at least some of the special needs kids may be going to the alternative learning center, or elsewhere, or they may be easier to deal with as they get older. But sure, class size is still a problem in higher grades. Teaching for MSU Mankato, it’s nice to have a mix of literature, creative writing and composition, but if I had to teach four composition classes a semester, I’d go nuts, and that’s with just 25 students as a cap. We give them more personal attention at MSU in the composition sections than at some universities, but in middle school and high school, a typical English teacher might have many more students and essays to read, many more kids whose parents have not tended the garden of their children’s education. Many students need a lot of help just with constructing sentences, grammar and punctuation, or even having confidence in their own ability to put their own voice and thoughts on paper.

    I think the average Northfield school district parent is happy to have a functioning school system, tends to respect most of the teachers, but doesn’t think much about getting active in advocating smaller class size. Our taxes might go up, you know, and we’ve been trained to believe that’s always evil. Instead of paying for smaller classes and a few more teachers or aides, we’ve been told that individual citizens can spend that money themselves in much better ways. Freedom of the consumer. We can buy our kids ipods and cell phones, and pay the monthly bill for the downloads and extra calling minutes. We can get bigger SUV’s to drive our kids to school so they don’t have to take the bus. And video games so they don’t have to read as much, or learn a musical instrument. Good stuff like that. To hasten global warming and the next ice age, which will teach our children wisdom through hardship. All part of the master plan, I guess.

    But to make it work, we have to fight tax increases. You know. Especially if they pay for smaller classes. Those teachers in that union might start to feel spoiled or something. Might get lazy.

    (A-hem. Better stop here before my typing fingers cramp from my own sarcasm.)

    March 9, 2007
  40. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, I was hoping this wouldn’t fall into the old harrangue that anyone who opposes unlimited tax increases is a union-bashing cheapskate.
    I am a former union president, a volunteer position representing the rights of journalists in Duluth against the well-paid lawyers of the truly union-bashing Knight Ridder chain. We fought hard, but as revenues failed to keep up with corporate profit demands, wages stagnated, benefits withered and jobs were moved to “independent contractors” (employees without benefits or rights).
    It’s not just newspapers pushing workers to the wall. Today, there are about 200 magazines published in Minnesota, but 80 percent of the writing is done by “independent contractors.”
    And I have watched workers suffer in industry after industry where there was no option to just force customers to pay more.
    Miners on the Iron Range and steel mill workers in Indiana and furniture makers in the south and car makers and clothing makers all have seen their work sent overseas because you want to pay less when you shop and not think about the hardships of the workers in Asia or the ones who have lost jobs here.
    Now, investors have dismantled the Knight-Ridder chain and employees at the Pioneer Press will suffer the consequences. Over at the Star Tribune, veteran journalists are being forced out, with those left behind made to carry larger loads. Workers on icy cold assembly lines are being forced to chop more chicken carcasses faster to keep the price of McNuggets in line.
    I’m not saying teachers don’t work hard. I have volunteered in schools and have seen some work very hard. But $38,000 for 38 weeks pro-rates to $52,000 a year, with benefits, and that’s more than many people make. And I know the hours are long. But the hours are long for downtown store owners, who are struggling to stay open at the tax levels we have now. Hours are long for those of us who are independent contractors, who pay for our own health insurance and have no pensions and buy our own equipment.
    The hours are better, but the pay worse for retirees who have lost their insurance benefits because their companies have bailed out on them.
    What I’m saying here is that we all would love to have the best education possible for kids. We just need to keep this focused on how to balance the needs of children and teachers and parents with the needs of veterans’ hospitals and healthcare for the poor and roads and transit and clogged legal systems — and an ice arena and a library and liquor store — and our ability to pay for all of it.
    Attacking those who struggle to pay the bills isn’t fair. No one here has said that teachers should just suck it up. So please don’t demand that taxpayers do so.
    Let’s keep this focused on the fact that a lot of caring people are trying to find a balance between what we need and what we can afford.

    March 9, 2007
  41. Beth Breiland said:

    Paul, as always, you add insight into the conversation. I’ve enjoyed this intellectual stimulation, but I want to pipe in here for a couple reasons: first, because I’m a high school teacher and can voice my opinion about large classes in this arena and second, I’m concerned that, like most discussions about education, we’ve strayed into a variety of topics. While straying is almost inevitable and usually worthwhile, I’m wondering if the purpose of this discussion is merely discussion or if we’ve got the foundation of a movement? If people want to take action and DO something, it’s important to have a goal and not waiver from it. On the other hand, as an exchange of ideas this is a marvelous discussion. Sorry. I addressed 2 before 1. Let me go back.
    I teach HS English in Farmington, so I can’t speak for the class sizes at the HS or MS in Northfield. What I can say is that it is nearly impossible to demand rigor, emphasize strong writing skills, and focus on higher level thinking skills in classes upwards of 42. It is downright dangerous in some of the science labs. Plus, every year we seem to cut more staff even as the number of students in the building increase. As a teacher, that’s a safety concern, both for myself and for the students. My classload last semester was 158. This semester it is 154. Do I develop individual knowledge of each student’s educational skills? Yes, but it takes weeks and for some of them that’s too late. Do I know personal info about each of their lives outside of the building? About half the time. Am I expected to be able to comment about any one of my students at any given time to my administrators, their counselors, their parents, and be accurate in my assessment? Of course. Do I feel like I’m doing the best I can in my classroom everyday? Yes, given the circumstances. Do I always feel I could do more if only…? YES.
    From a teacher’s point of view, there is no magic answer to educating every student. I think that’s what Paul was trying to say in his first submission here. Small class sizes alone will not guarantee each student’s success. Can it help? Certainly. Will it hurt? NEVER. This is why education discussions tend to wander. It’s complex and all seemingly interrelated. One final thing, my experience as a classroom teacher has taught me that parents can make all the difference in the world. So, to all of you who’ve contributed to this conversation I thank you for caring, not only about your own children, but for all these children. It counts. And it matters.


    March 9, 2007
  42. Paul Fried said:

    Anne: Many good observations. A few thoughts:
    1) No one is talking yet about outsourcing teaching, but it could be done, and in the minds of some, developing software to replace teachers is still a strong possibility.
    2) I’m not attacking those who struggle to pay the bills, but those who have been persuaded to prefer iPods, cell phones, monster vehicles and selfish consumerism/materialism over the common good (and sometimes, unfortunately, I find myself in that very group along with many others).
    3) No one *here* has said teachers should “just suck it up,” but public remarks like that have been made, and this discussion has, from the start, pointed to other sources such as the NNews.
    4) I’m certainly not demanding that taxpayers “just suck it up”: there are many ways to address and pay for proposed class size reduction without raising everyone’s taxes. There has been some debate between legislators and those who collect MN taxes whether it’s feasible to collect certain amounts of delinquent taxes, and that debate may continue, although some see it as a dead end. There is a current surplus, some of which seems to be headed toward tax relief, and some toward education, among other things. And besides the Minnesota/Pawlenty method, there are other states with Democratic governors and different tax codes; it would be possible to generate revenue by closing tax loopholes and by raising taxes on the very rich, who are not struggling, and who, tax incidence studies show, are paying a lower percent than most MN taxpayers.
    5) I agree with you 100% on the need to “find a balance between what we need and what we can afford.” And finally:
    6) I certainly don’t advocate “unlimited tax increases, or as “the old harangue.” If it came off that way, I trust that the error was mine in muddled delivery, and not a failure on your part. My bad. Sorry. I’ll try to be more clear and avoid harangue next time.

    March 9, 2007
  43. Paul Fried said:

    Beth: Thanks, and I appreciate hearing from a HS teacher what the class load is like, especially in all the specifics you list. Very helpful.

    Also, good question about discussion/movement/action.

    Being married to someone who is both a former LINK and former Companeros teacher, I wonder if it might help at all to look at the history of how we got to this point–to the problem, not only with class size, but also with disproportionate distribution of special needs kids.

    Schools often (though not always, with some glaring exceptions) try their best to be careful about such class placement issues, and when the choice programs started under principal Nancy Whittman Belz (Beltz?) at GVPES when Charlie Kyte was Super, Nancy took a very different approach to choice program caps and class placement than the current process. At a certain point, Companeros moved to Bridgewater because it was struggling at GVPES. They thought that being at the new school might attract more to the program, and they were right; parents could send their kids to Bridgewater no matter where they lived, as long as they picked Companeros. Bridgewater’s principal was a strong advocate for the program, and lobbied to add more sections.

    Under Nancy W-B at GV, they not only had caps/limits to choice program size, but also sought very consciously to admit a balanced group to the choice program sections. In other words, if there were a certain number of reduced/free lunch kids in a contemporary class at GV, they sought about the same number in a typical choice program classroom. If there were a certain number of very high-achieving students in the average contemporary classroom, they sought about the same in the average choice program. In this way, they avoided both class size conflicts to some extent, and also other inequity issues where contemporary teachers would feel they’re getting the “leftovers” and the choice programs are getting the “cream.” But there were still inequities, inasmuch as choice program parents may have been more likely to volunteer in the classroom, and also more likely on average to be more actively involved in their child’s education. They were the assertive-consumer parents, on average, who had gone to the extra work of requesting a choice program for their child.

    And the other inequity that persisted was that the longer kids stayed in Companeros, the more some dropped out. It was a challenging program, parents didn’t always know how to help with a second language they themselves didn’t know in many cases, and so Companeros got a reputation as being the program where you get more teacher attention in the higher grades because the class size when way down, and the teacher-student ratio got much better.

    On top of this, there was often an undercurrent of racism and/or classism attached to the Bridgewater Companeros program: It was the program a good number of parents claimed to have chosen because that’s where the “smart” kids were, the kind you wouldn’t mind your kids having as friends. Some parents I knew expressed fright and concern about some of the kids you might find in the “average” classroom. Along the same lines of reasoning, it was a way to avoid GV “Trailer trash”. (Not my opinion: There are some great GV kids who have come from the trailer park, and it’s easy to find a rich brat if you look.) I don’t think all Companeros families had this attitude, but many parents acknowledged that things like these were factors when choosing the program.

    When Bridgewater lobbied for more sections of Companeros, Ray Cox was on the school board, and his angle was more from the POV of a businessman with a customer than that of an educator. He advocated giving the customers what they want. If parents want their children in that program, expand the program, and accept all who apply. Do the same for LINK, which was expanded a number of years. So they expanded the choice programs. This led, in part, to problems we have now, relating both to class size and to disproportionate distribution of children with various special needs, etc.

    This marked a change in the history of the choice programs, however. LINK had started when the district asked teachers to dream a bit, and to propose some choice programs that contained what they thought were some of the best and most intriguing educational methods and philosophies they had found. Companeros was the district’s idea, but even there, the first group of teachers had a strong role in defining the program and curriculum. When you have a program whose excellence is tied in part to the investment and commitment of a core group of teachers, it’s very hard to treat it as a product that can be mass-produced or expanded easily. When you hire new teachers, do you give them, and the parents, a voice in redefining the program? Or do you stay committed to the program as it was, as a proven product, and require that the new teachers conform to the existing model of the program?

    Instead of merely expanding the existing choice programs, the district could have gone another way. They could have gone back to teachers and parents and said, “Look: These choice programs are thriving and seem popular, but instead of expanding them like a product that can be mass-produced, we want to ask parents and teachers to propose more choice programs to fill this rising need represented by waiting lists and requests for those programs. We want more good choices, and teachers and parents who have a strong investment in each. We want the district to continue to grow as a laboratory for innovation and best practices.”

    I think one of the reasons Charlie Kyte and Nancy W-B proposed the choice programs may have been that it was a good idea; they may also have seen the charter school movement on the horizon, and wanted to position the district so that schools would remain vital, attract the best teachers, and give prospective charter schools a run for their money. And it worked for a while; many parents claimed to have opted for the choice programs instead of the charter schools because choice programs had a good history of success.

    That’s some of the history of how we got here, as far as I understand it.

    March 9, 2007
  44. kiffi summa said:

    This has been an amazing conversation from a lot of very informed people/parents re: the problem of class sizes in the Nf School District; am I being just too, too un-Minnesotan to suggest that a large part of the funding problem is the lack of full funding from the current state administration (remember those beautiful words in the state constitution), and then the lack of full funding for its mandatesfrom the current Federal level………and that should mean
    a BIG political push from the people who have concerns, and facts to back them up.
    The lack of funding for mandates is shameful; why do people who already feel their taxes are large, getting larger, getting “excess levied”, not feel that the appropriate response is a big coalition of groups to push at the legislature, hoping that will push to the federal level?
    I think this is happening with a coalition of MN groups, but is not yet a strong enough movement to have the desired effect.
    I wish our “excess levy group” would put their well practiced and very successful expertise towards supporting all
    the less fortunate districts in the state who could not pass their excess levies, thereby using that expertise to really contribute to the common good. I’m glad it passed for “our” kids, but I want it (equal quality education) for all kids.
    Could we possibly work on that?

    March 9, 2007
  45. Paul Fried said:

    Kiffi: I certainly agree. Fully fund special education at the federal level as promised 30 years ago. That would help. Fully fund No Child Left Untested. That would help. Even if it translates to a small gain on the state level, every little bit helps.

    And in the end, to get back to Anne B’s comment on taxes, we pay far too much in taxes. Other countries have more to spend on education because their militaries aren’t so bloated. That’s the other elephant in the living room we think we have to avoid when we talk about education and raising taxes.

    March 9, 2007
  46. Anne Bretts said:

    This is a wonderful and thoughtful discussion. And let me stress that I think providing a good education and reasonable class sizes is very important.
    I’m just curious,however. If reading and learning are so important, why are there hundreds of parents at every soccer practice and Little League game and so few able to help with education? It seems to me that if parents put the same effort into mentoring and coaching and helping students in academic areas, this problem would be so much less severe.

    March 9, 2007
  47. Paul Fried said:

    Anne B: Agreed 100%. That’s why some in the discussion have said that a Companeros class of 32 was fine at Bridgewater: Assertive consumer parents, a higher percentage of whom are more actively involved with their children’s education and lives in general (maybe many of them also volunteer as soccer coaches, etc.). If more parents put that much effort into parenting, consistently, one of many results might be that there would be fewer special needs kids clumped together in those overcrowded GVP classrooms. So this is not a fix-through-taxes-only issue in that respect.

    And if a bunch of parents, on a volunteer basis, worked hard in coordination with the district to recruit more parent volunteers to help in the classroom, it wouldn’t be exactly the same as a trained aide selected from a pool of applicants, but it could certainly help.

    Any volunteers?

    March 9, 2007
  48. Anne Bretts said:

    Sign me up…(Big believer in putting your money where your mouth is).

    March 9, 2007
  49. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve sent individual personal emails to some of the school board members, asking them to join the conversation here. Thus far, no one has replied to me or joined us.

    It might help if some of you asked them, too:

    Some of those email addresses on that page may not be accurate (I tried some alternate addresses) so I suggest trying a phone call.

    Also, I could make a PDF of all the conversation here to-date and email it to Donita Delzer, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent & Board, asking her to print out copies for each board member before Monday’s meeting.

    March 9, 2007
  50. Griff Wigley said:

    Lisa, I see you had a letter to the editor in this week’s Nlfd News. I’ll add it here for the benefit of those who’ve not seen it:

    Class size is key to education

    To the editor:

    One of the keystones of quality education is workable class sizes. Large class sizes, despite an excellent teaching staff, have a direct effect on the quality of instruction each child receives.

    Reading Recovery is another one of the keystones in creating successful students. Reading Recovery provides individual instruction. Reading Recovery, designed specifically to help at-risk readers get a solid start in school, provides first-graders one-on-one instruction with a specially trained teacher. Reading Recovery’s effectiveness has, unbelievably, been brought into question by the school district’s director of student services. How could eliminating this successful program possibly be a step in the right direction?

    The Greenvale Park contemporary third grade is coping with an increase in size due to budget cuts. The situation of over-crowding for this group has been allowed to continue from second grade into third. These children, despite the efforts of an excellent teaching staff, are not able to receive the attention needed for a quality education. This status quo is not acceptable.

    The school board is searching for economical ways to alleviate the large class sizes which are threatening the quality of Northfield’s education system. Because the Companeros and the contemporary students cannot be shifted between classes to create reasonable numbers of children in each class, most of the options deal in one way or another with the Companeros program: Creating a Companeros Magnet School – the most expensive option due to bussing; dividing the grades up among the three grade schools; providing additional support when class sizes and Student needs indicate; placing a cap on Companeros enrollment; or maintaining class size status quo.

    One of the options already dropped was the elimination of Companeros. No matter what the board decides, some people are not going to be happy. However, if something doesn’t shift soon to reduce grade school class sizes, more and more children are going to fall further and further behind.

    The present status quo of large grade school classes, with Reading Recovery hanging in the balance, is not acceptable. Everybody needs a chance at quality instruction of the core subjects. I entreat the board and the superintendent to take the initiative to improve the quality of education for all the grade school children. If the district fails to provide what is needed for the core education for every child, they have truly fallen short of their mission as an educational institution as stated by Superintendent Chris Richardson on the district’s website: “The mission of the Northfield Public Schools is to deliver educational excellence that empowers all learners to participate in our dynamic world.”

    Lisa Olson, Webster

    March 10, 2007
  51. Lisa Olson said:

    Wow, so much said over the past week. I’ve been down with a cold and my mental activity has been greatly limited.

    I am flattered that you sought fit to add my article. I had so much I wanted to put out there, I worked 6 pages of ideas down to 500 words!

    The added twist is the Reading recovery which is so important. We are not sure why (unless its $$) the director recommended it be cut. The board was not to keen on cutting it, but I thought it important to get the word out.

    One of you asked why the discussion was centered on grade school class sizes and not secondary. Basically because I have a 3rd grader at GVP and I started making noise. We organized parents and asked the board for an aid for the remaining three months of the year. Then the class sizes of all the grade school classes came to the fore and we were off. The board is looking at secondary class sizes as well. However, there seems to be less that can be done for the secondary level (short of a few mill.) without cutting into choice. And it seems ‘they’ have opted for choice over smaller classes.

    Someone else mentioned doing something instead of, or in addition to our rich discussions. We did and we are. Our aid was turned down, but something for next year is in the works. Plus the real source of our pain is of course the government. We need to focus our energy on making our voices heard up there. I haven’t made it that far yet, but that is my next step.

    On a time line now, gotta go. Will get more info on here soon.

    March 10, 2007
  52. Deb said:

    Hi all, I haven’t joined in lately, alot of new information to absorb. Where do I start?

    Let’s see if I can answer some questions concerning the secondary overcrowding. At the first board work session,we were given a few class size numbers.
    Creative Writing – 37, 39
    Modern World History – 38,40,36,30,36,41
    Behavioral Sciences – 37,40,37,40,30
    American History – 40,37,37,38,36,36,33
    AP Statistics – 33,42
    Of the 15.9 teachers who were cut, 10.9 came from the secondary schools. Two points that were made at the session that I thought were interesting were, “we have talked to the students and they don’t mind the large class sizes. They would be disappointed if the classes were not offered.” Has anyone asked the teachers or the parents? I have a son entering HS next year and I am not to excited to think he may be sitting on the windowsill or halfway in the hall. The other comment I questioned was “this school is very pupil driven. If the students want a class we get it.” The HS offers 77 one time electives. I’m still not real clear if that means one time a year or one time a semester. A senior at NHS can choose from a list of 140 electives. Yes, many of these electives are offered for grades 9-12 (9th grade can choose from 28 of the 140), but am I the only one who thinks that is a high number? I like the idea of choice but is there a thing as too much choice? At every board meeting I have attended, the word “choice ” has been the determining factor. The “choice” of Companeros, the “choice” of attending a large class, the “choice” of enrolling your child at another elementary instead of your neighborhood school. I think the board is having a hard time telling the parents of this district “NO” (unless you are a parent of the contemporary program at GVP). The “choice” that should be made is basic education first. The fundementals are getting lost in the fancy offerings of “choice”.

    Anne, I loved your comment about parents and volunteering. Northfield is very fortunate to have a wonderful response of parent volunteers for the schools. We are also lucky to have a large number of college student volunteers. Unfortunately, at the elementary level there are times when more than an hour here and an hour there are needed. These times are when a full-time EA are needed to help aid the teachers with the flow of the class.

    Now to add more to the mix. Smaller class sizes are our goal. How this will be accomplished boggles the mind. Being a parent of one of the 3rd grade Contemporary students I do not see a soulution for next years class size. There are not enough classrooms to have 5 fourth grade teachers, and 5 rooms of 20 students each would never be approved. Companeros is not going to go away. Bounderies are not going to be moved again this soon. Eventually, they will have to as the town grows, but not yet. The only thing to hope for at this point is the approval of a “Contigency Fund” for additional staff to handle the overload. Then I have to hope the fourth grade will qualify for the fund. Yes, the “Contigency Fund” is just a band aid, but at this point I am thinking of immediate results for my daughter. If something isn’t done to aide the 3rd/4th grade at GVP I will have to think of other options for her. The class size issue can not be set aside, but I do not believe it will be resolved as quickly as we would like to see. I am not being a defeatist, just a realist.

    Paul, to add to the special needs piece of this puzzle. I believe GVP already has 11 identified special needs students coming in with the Kindergarten class for next year. I don’t know what that number is at the other two schools. How will we address their needs in the classrooms, and still help every student? Could be a third grade issue all over again.

    Thanks for letting me add my two cents.

    March 10, 2007
  53. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks for the numbers, but how many small classes are there at the secondary level? The number of electives does sound excessive for a school of this size. And again, the seven-period day is a problem in that the state formula only supports six periods a day. As long as you offer more classes than the state supports, you will be digging a deeper and deeper hole.
    And from what I’ve read here, I don’t see that ending Companeros is a hardship that would make me consider a budget increase to keep it.
    As for the people who are going to ask the state officials to give more money to education, where do you suggest they cut? Shall we close parks, cut veterans’ services, limit healthcare for the poor, delay road improvements or new transit lines?
    If more money can be raised by things like collecting delinquent taxes, fine. But if you’re talking new taxes or cuts in other areas, let’s be clear about the choices that need to be made.

    March 10, 2007
  54. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Anne and Deb,

    So, to me the discussion shouldn’t be: how much extra learning is going on at NHS (how many extra hours do we have and extra options.) To me, after reading the numbers, I think we should be saying this:

    MY GOD! We’re in crisis mode at the secondary level!

    I was wondering about that. My daughter (MS) said she didn’t know how big the classes were but there had to be desks moved in to some of her classes. She then said that for one of her hours the class was huge.

    She went on to say that it was her teacher’s worst hour– they got an average of a D on a test, when other hours averaged a B or an A. Made me think about a few things.

    So, if I get this right– not just a few classes are big. We’ve got 36+ classes all over the place. Those poor teachers. What can I do? I don’t want less electives, but I want smaller classes than 40’s! Ridiculous! Do the board members care about this? Or is this something we’ve slowly come to expect as normal?

    March 10, 2007
  55. Lisa Olson said:

    Holly, the board members do know about the large class sizes at the MS and HS. Some of them even have children in some of those 40+ classes. But they feel that their hands are tied due to budget cuts and the choices requested. They do care, and I believe they do want to do the right thing. But like Deb said and Paul mentioned, this seems to be a consumer driven system. If the parents and students want the choice, then it is offered.

    I think it is hard for the individual to see the big picture. When someone wants this option or this class, they cannot see how that impacts the entire system. I know I could only see the GVP 3rd grade. Now I can see more of the picture, but the board should be the leader and make the difficult choices to create a healthy(er) district on the whole.

    I still think that the crux of the matter lies with the state. Why isn’t there enough $ to go around up there? Everything they support is, of course, important. But education is no less so. We won’t have policemen or firemen who can read if we don’t have a decent educational system. (Ok, so that was overstated. but you get my drift.)

    March 10, 2007
  56. Anne Bretts said:

    We won’t have police officers or firefighters who can read if we don’t have a decent educational system, but we may not have enough police or firefighters if we use money needed to pay them for optional school programs. I’m fine with getting basic class sizes down to reasonable sizes, but I’m not ok with offering an optional program if it harms the education of other students.
    And Holly, a crisis is something that can’t be anticipated or averted. This is a problem that is being caused by people choosing to offer elementary programs and secondary elective classes they can’t afford. I don’t see anything here that rises to the level of a crisis. A difficult choice, sure, but not a crisis.

    March 10, 2007
  57. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Anne,

    according to m-w, A crisis is:

    3 a : an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome

    You sound like a “back to the basics kind of person.” No gifted or otherwise special kids in your family, I suppose. Maybe not in mine, either, but we’re glad for choice. I know, all kids are special. Sorry.

    So, I like choice at NHS. I think offering many choices is a sign of good educational values and a good educational system– this has many effects– realtors and business people know a good district draws new people.

    But, Anne, look at those numbers– teachers with 40’s+ in a classroom!! That’s might be two teachers with 23 in a classroom. 25 to 28 would be a nice class size, not 40’s+.

    We’re heading for trouble.

    Electives and this year’s numbers: I think some graduating class sizes are 350, and then some graduating class sizes aren’t (say, the class of 2009 is a smaller than that, I think). The more populated classes will result in elective choices being filled, and for the class of 2009 those electives might be a little more sparse. In the end it might be better to have the choice rather than not, even if it means a sparse year (20 in a classroom, or something.)

    To make a long story short, We can’t just look at the numbers this year and say “Oh, that elective is too small. Let’s get rid of it.”

    The kids are in class here and there, and in the end they all just need a class. You think that by offering less electives there will be a magical answer, like the beans brought jack?

    Seems to me the problems are: no money, a gradual increase of class size until it hurts and becomes the norm, and keeping good teachers.

    Add this discussion to the punitive trend going on— punishing schools for not performing or for not being fiscally prudent– and the mess looks worse. I don’t understand why we punish schools that need the most help.

    Ha ha– it is almost as if the class size argument years ago brought the reverse– it was argued that smaller classes were needed to meet test requirements, etc– but in the end Mpls etc schools are going to close schools AND… eventually larger classes someplace else. You can’t just erase a problem by shifting kids…

    MOre– teachers are wary of volunteers who help in the classroom. Sometimes volunteers might know a subject but can be HORRIBLE in the classroom, and this results in MORE WORK and etc. It might look easy, but “teaching” is not easy.

    March 11, 2007
  58. Paul Fried said:

    A few observations: First, I don’t think the class size discrepancy at GVPES between Companeros and Contemporary can be blamed for all the budget woes of the district. I have not seen anyone in this discussion come out and suggest that, but it should be avoided.
    While there are fairness and education issues there that should be addressed, officials in the district have made it clear that Companeros (especially not at GV) is not the cause of class size problems at the MS and HS level.

    As I understand it, the budget figure needed to bring down class sizes significantly at the MS and HS are larger that the savings you’d achieve, say, by disbanding the GV Companeros and saying only Bridgewater kids, or kids whose parents drop them at Bridgewater instead of taking the bus, can be in the program. And while there may be some extra expenses related to Companeros in general, like curriculum writing or certain staffing percentages, I don’t think even disbanding the program completely would yield the dollars needed to address other budget woes. And I don’t believe we should make it a habit to cannibalize our own programs (especially in languages or arts) to pay for basics.

    Second, the reality is that many school districts in Minnesota are feeling the same budget crunch, talking about class size issues, and becoming mad at one another inside our own district does nothing. In general, I think the average person in the public doesn’t understand the school budget problem, or the extent of its consequences. Some think schools are just spending too much. Many just don’t see how the quest for consumer-driven education on a small budget is creating class size problems, and how overworked teachers and less individual attention are among the results. Many don’t understand how rising health care costs, and inflation, and many other factors, have taken a huge toll, while education spending was held flat for many years. It has been like a process of slow starvation, while we’ve expected educators and education systems to keep growing, keep vital, stay innovative, etc.

    Third: Occasionally we read a letter or two in the paper complaining that district X or Y are among those without deficits, or not cutting their district budgets. It might be interesting to research some of these districts. Where are they, and what are they doing? Is it districts like Edina, where there’s a lot of money and a long tradition of family/taxpayer support? Is it districts that might have been very financially conservative all along, and not be able to afford arts programs or electives, building upgrades or new schools? Do local residents really want a school system that looks and works like those? How are the test scores in such districts that some have cited? If it’s not Edina, but a very fiscally conservative district, what quality of teacher are they able to attract on the salaries they offer? I’m very skeptical about such comparisons, which often seem presented by the ideologically driven. The point usually seems to be one of shaming locals into less support for schools, and more support for tax cuts. If we can learn from the fiscally able Edina district, or the fiscally conservative Lake Wobegon district, and from how they manage their budgets – in relation to bussing, electives, choice, class size, teacher salary – I’m all for it. But what such research yields may be less than we need.

    March 11, 2007
  59. Anne Bretts said:

    I’m not a back to basics peron at all. I have just heard these same arguments for 20 years, since I first became an education reporter in Duluth. I have heard the same inflation/health care increases/class size crisis arguments over and over and over, with never a plan for how much money is enough money, or what should be cut in the rest of government to provide the funding.
    I won the U of M Premack award for a year-long series on education, covering big, little, private and charter schools and post-secondary options and special ed and early childhood through college programs. And I have children who are adults now who got great opportunities in small schools and lousy ones in big schools. I have worked with educators who are dedicated and others who were as bad as the worst in any other profession I have covered.
    It is not helpful to tell those of us who ask for accountability that we don’t understand or don’t like kids. We do.
    The state highway department holds hearings and sets funding plans for the next 20 years and methodically does the projects according to priorities and funding levels. The park system does the same. The universities all do the same. Most cities have long-term spending plans (thought not Northfield, so maybe there’s a common fear of numbers here.)
    All I want is for the shool district to set out a 10-year plan, or even a five-year plan, that spells out enrollment and projected revenue based on past numbers and then spells out what the spending priorities are. Choice is fine, unlimited choice isn’t possible. My husband teaches at the university level; if the enrollment doesn’t hit a minimum level, a course is dropped. That’s just common sense.
    We just passed an excess levy that we were told would protect the status quo. If the status quo was a crisis, the district and the levy supporters had an obligation to say so, and to explain clearly how much money was really needed.
    Yes, I’d highly recommend looking at other school districts and learning how they manage. And if you want public support, put down the crisis card and give us a plan we can get behind.

    March 11, 2007
  60. Paul Fried said:

    Hearing the same stuff about increasing costs for 20 years – in a way that’s anecdotal evidence and not necessarily to be trusted, like the kid with a finger in the dike, and the local resident who say’s she’s seen leaks off and on for years, so she asks, what’s new? If the flood waters are rushing in, whether you’ve seen them before or not, it doesn’t invalidate claims that today’s flood-waters are some of the worst seen in a long time. They may be worse now than then, and more worthy of attention.

    The rising medical coverage costs that are a part of rising education costs were not so bad 20 or even 10 years ago. Education spending is often a political football, but the fact that we have no state formula for how to cover education can’t really be addressed on the local level alone. A local 10-year plan may help, but certainly would not have made state funding remain consistent in a “no new taxes” climate. We’re still largely affected by the whims of a political system that lacks the 10-year plan, and the formula, but needs it statewide. Some politicians are talking about working for one.

    And regarding electives: Choices do not necessarily equal higher costs. It depends on how programs and curriculum requirements are structured. For instance, if some sort of history class is required, but if to fulfill the requirement, one can choose one of three or four choices, this is not grounds for complaining that too many choice equals higher costs and therefore larger class size. If there was only one plain vanilla choice, the classrooms might still be overcrowded. More information is required about the programs and curriculum before making those kinds of judgments.

    I have not seen that sort of information presented here, at least not yet. Maybe some who have contributed to discussion already possess detailed knowledge in those areas, but I don’t, and I’d rather not assume.

    March 11, 2007
  61. Lisa Olson said:

    Are you serious that our district doesn’t’ have a long term financial plan? I know there are many unforeseen variables in a public school system; possibly more than at a University where they can control enrolment or the hi way system, but one still needs to have a plan to follow. They must have a budget – so do they just float from year to year?

    It does look like the levy money is simply going to make it possible to continue at our current status que, which leaves much to be desired.

    March 11, 2007
  62. Lisa Olson said:

    During the last school board meeting, the number of electives at the H.S. was discussed. I just looked through my paper work and don’t see any numbers. What I remember is somewhere in the neighborhood of 77 electives. At any given hour of the day, there are 11 classes which are only offered during that hour. People seem to think this is a lot. I have no comparison. It was said that many of the classes are A.P. classes.

    For me, the fact that adequately financing education continues becoming an issue, is in itself a problem. If the dike leaked 20 years ago, has sprung leaks since and is leaking now, maybe we need a better dike! None of the leaks is less important than any other.

    I am depresseed when I think how difficult it seems for our society/government to truly support people in public service jobs. Those of us serving others are on the low end of the pay scale. Those vital jobs (police, teachers, fire fighters…) which are funded by tax $s always seem to get the short end of the financial stick.

    March 11, 2007
  63. Paul Fried said:

    Again, I don’t know how to put 77 electives in context. Divided by which years in school that take those electives? Does elective mean a certain kind of literature course in a curriculum that requires either Shakespeare, or early American, or contemporary poetry, or what? And if a few have 40 or more enrolled, do other electives have 10? Is there not only a class size problem, but also a class balance problem among electives? 77 doesn’t seem high to me without context, and I just don’t have it. And if electives are forms of requirements, and if a majority are at capacity or over, then it would be clear that it’s not a problem where we’re offering too many electives, but one where the funding isn’t present to keep the class sizes down or offer more sections, etc.

    March 11, 2007
  64. Anne Bretts said:

    I agree. Maybe someone could put together the “big picture” rather than anecdotal reports of problems. How many classes are overcrowded and what percentage of the total number of classes is that? If this is a crisis, why didn’t the district say so and ask for more money in the levy proposal just a couple of months ago? What are the solutions and how much will they cost? We have lots of pieces, but not enough to put the puzzle together.

    March 11, 2007
  65. Paul Fried said:

    In answer to your original question, I didn’t feel mislead. I assumed I was voting to keep current levels pretty much where they were at, all things being what they were, and not accounting for unforseen circumstances.

    Maybe school board members don’t need to get involved, or don’t feel they do, if they’re aware of most of these things already. It’s not in their job descriptions to visit discussions online and do overtime with PR, although I’ve found them to be generous with their time when I’ve called some on the phone in the past. If a discussion like this came up with something really novel, fine, but otherwise, the value may be mostly in the catharsis of public discussion, and perhaps the possibility that people may leave a discussion more likely in some cases to become more actively involved?

    Part of the problem with choice programs and class size at GVP (more narrowly) has to do with problems that have been passed on from one principal or superintendent to the next (management communication problems, and shifting expectations and guidelines about choice programs?). Perhaps some balls were dropped in the process. There were also significant challenges caused by the reorganization of Companeros and the efforts to reduce bussing costs, and these translated more immediately into class-size issues.

    As the discussion here has branched out far beyond the original question of “Did you feel mislead” by the levy, I wonder if there might be some value in starting new discussions that are more focused:

    1. What should the short-term solution be at GVPES? (Or is this one too late? Shall we assume that school board members are already close to a decision on this?)

    2. What should the long-term solution be regarding class size?

    3. Regarding choice programs?

    4. Bussing?

    There have been some interesting ideas presented, including the suggestion about encouraging walking and biking, and seeking grant money, etc. In a town with two wind-turbines, you’d think more families would have their children walk, bike or take the bus, but the Middle School parking lot is clogged every school morning, along with the nearby intersection.

    Also, my son is in band and jazz band at the MS, but we currently pay no fees at all. If the district values arts, athletics and choice programs, I think it’s OK to pay a fee for certain programs, as some already do for athletics, and others do for some other activities. We pay nothing, but would be willing, and collected fees could offset other needs. A fees discussion?

    You could invite teachers, district administrators, coaches or school board members to take part in more targeted discussions. They might have little interest, but it may be worth a try. Does that sound like too large a series of topics for attention, perhaps making “Locally Grown” seem too much a school thing, a “school groan”? That would be understandable.

    Thanks for the discussion so far.

    March 11, 2007
  66. Paul Fried said:

    I assume the levy had to be prepared before fall classes started, and they also had to make judgment calls about how ambitious they could be. Republican governor, Republican president, expensive war, larger deficit at the federal level, and these things worry people. News may not yet have come out about surplus or extra collections of taxes, etc.

    Lots of variables there, hard to tell which electives would be most popular to an incoming class, which teachers would be generous and flexible enough to consider teaching larger sections (do they get a say?) instead of forcing students to choose other electives that may have been as full, but whose teachers may not have been so willing?

    I don’t see how they could have planned a more ambitious levy, given what they knew last year about the economy and political climate.

    And school board members, teachers, and Chris Richardson were all very present at the 5%/5% (or was it a simply 10%?) rally in Bridge Square, so we knew they were aware of the problems with the budget. I don’t think it was a matter of not seeing the crisis. All those painful budget cuts were about crisis. I think they tried to communicate their concerns. They know many area residents expect a lot of the schools. They also know many area residents don’t like to have their taxes raised too much. So they put together a plan they thought would preserve the status quo, at minimum, and it passed, but not by that incredibly much.

    If they’d been more ambitious and tried to reduce class sizes, it might have failed, and then we’d have had a bigger crisis. I don’t fault them for that.

    And if you went back and read, in the NNews, articles by Richardson and others about the Levy, and about other education-related themes swirling around the election, it wasn’t that we didn’t know in one form or another. It was more a matter of which prognosis or forecast we were willing to listen to and believe.

    March 11, 2007
  67. Anne Bretts said:

    I agree that this discussion has run its course and we need more specifics on particular issues.
    I gathered as much information as I could online, mostly from the school district itself and the state. Maybe there are some figures I’m just not seeing, but I can’t find the crisis.
    As for not knowing the budget formula before the referendum, we are at the end of the biennial, or two-year budget cycle, so the numbers were set in 2005 and were very clear last year.
    There’s no sudden enrollment change to knock things out of whack. The district reports enrollment is flat and is expected to stay that way.
    The district has 3,852 students, with 11 percent receiving special education services, 17 percent eligible for free and reduced lunches and 8 percent with limited English. State averages are 13 percent special ed, 30 percent free/reduced lunch and 7 percent with limited English. There are no overwhelming poverty issues and special ed is actually slightly less an issue here than statewide.
    And as for teachers suffering financially, the average teaching salary in Northfield is $45,934 for 38 weeks, or the adjusted annual equivalent of $62,857. Less than some make, I suppose, but hardly poverty wages.
    The district is spending a total of nearly $7,967 per student, or nearly the tuition required to attend the University of Minnesota. And that’s just the amount spent on education, not on capital costs. (Yes, tuition is only part of the cost of a year of higher education, but I’m just trying to get a little perspective here. We aren’t just pulling spare change out of the sofa to finance education here.)
    At Greenvale, for example, the state shows (could be a lag of a year or so in this data) 37 teachers for 538 students, a pretty solid number. Of course some are special ed, but that’s still a strong number. I notice that the report shows the school offers all-day kindergarten. It’s a great program, but if it is offered, is it funded by the state or is it a choice? If it is a choice, like Companeros, it comes at the expense of larger class sizes.
    You see, that is part of the problem. The state gives districts money and allows them to choose what to spend it on. You can make class sizes smaller, or offer more expensive choices that drive up class sizes. That’s why it’s called a choice.
    And beware of asking for state support. If you ask the state to take over funding, the state will take over spending. And that will really limit choices.
    The state reports don’t break down teacher numbers by individual class assignments, so I can’t tell exactly how many classes are small or large at each grade level. Averages don’t tell much. And people in this discussion have highlighted anecdotal reports of some large classes.
    Knowing what percentages of classes are large and small and how many more teachers are needed and how much that would cost and what the options are would help put this problem in perspective.

    March 12, 2007
  68. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Paul and others who want to reduce class size but aren’t gung ho about cutting electives unless there is an absolute, clear pattern of misuse of dollars–

    Want to get together to discuss class sizes? There is already a group which is concerned about elementary classes, but I would like to include secondary class sizes, which have not been addresses by the board beyond “we’re pupil driven.

    I am interested in overall, district class size and I especially don’t want to see the secondary situation continue.

    Maybe we could meet at the library? I’ll check the library calendar… if there are at least two of us we can get a start on things. Or, coffee? I love Coffee. Paul, your four season porch is beautiful– maybe we could meet there (inviting myself and others over… ha ha, not nice, but your coffee is good)

    March 12, 2007
  69. Anne Bretts said:


    When you and Paul get all the class size numbers, could you please share them here? Many of us are very willing to listen.

    March 12, 2007
  70. Griff Wigley said:

    I emailed this to Donita Delzer this morning:

    PDF of class size discussion

    Hi Donita,

    I’ve attached a 41-page PDF of the online discussion among parents that’s been occurring on our blog, Locally Grown, in the past 10 days or so.

    I think it might be helpful for school board members to read/know about.

    Can you email the PDF to them and/or print out one copy to circulate to them at tonight’s board meeting?

    Thanks so much.

    March 12, 2007
  71. Beth Breiland said:

    Two more short tidbits from me:
    One, choice at the secondary level is necessary. Not all students are leaving HS with the same career goals or abilities. We are morally bound to offer classes appropriate for each student to succeed in this world. If you talk about cutting choices, where do we start? AP? Good luck. What about Vo Tech? I wouldn’t do it. It’s the only area in which some students excell and it’s their passion and career aspiration. Aren’t we obligated to prepare all students? What about students with low IQ’s, brain injury, FAS? Subjecting these students to many required mainstream classes is unnecessary torture that inevitably ends in their failure. So, should we cut remedial courses? Life skills courses? Which students can we choose to leave behind in order to balance a budget in a time when leaving any child behind isn’t an option? What about in a time when legislators are suggesting requiring students in HS to study a year’s worth of college courses (at the public school’s expense, not the colleges)? Our legislators do have an obligation to fund programs they insist we offer in our schools. Most people think it’s fabulous that students in high school can take college courses (made possible by our legislators). What they don’t understand is that takes resources away from the public school while also costing the school above and beyond whatever those classes cost. So, when Anne says that we spend nearly $8,000 per pupil in this district, while true, it is not often evenly distributed since some of that money goes to institutions of higher learning and much of it goes towards special ed.
    Second, full day kindergarten is definitely an increased expense, but it is a tuition program.


    March 12, 2007
  72. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks for the info on kindergarten. I thought there might be an explanation there. As for the other programs, I think they sound very worthwhile. That’s not the question at all. The question is how to balance all the worthwhile pieces with what we can afford. And right now we just keep circling the issue without the numbers needed to draw conclusions, so I’ll just keep hoping someone can provide them.

    March 12, 2007
  73. Paul Fried said:


    I admire your efforts to get a more objective handle on the numbers via research, but beware how you handle the numbers.

    For example, kids go out for “specials” like physical education, art, music, band, orchestra, media; there are also teachers who specialize in helping certain kids with reading, ESL or special education. (Which of these can, or should, we get rid of?)

    So if you divide the number of kids in a certain year (538?) by teachers (37?) it may look like 15 kids in a class, but that’s way off. You might have a very small group of very high special needs kids requiring the attention of a number of teachers or teacher and aides. The smallest classes at GVPES, to my knowledge, are those two sections of third grade Companeros, and they’re the exception to the rule. If you combined those, you’d have had a class of 38, in which case other teachers would have been crying foul.

    If there had not been a change in principals last year at GV, and if bussing were not so expensive, there might have been some chance for a management-intensive phone-and-letter campaign to balance the Companeros classes better between GV and Bridgewater, but then you’re into the pitfalls of soft boundaries again.

    And as far as teacher salaries go, who counts as a teacher, and how does one find the average?
    – Does a special ed aide count, or a part-time teacher, or the “chapter” teachers who help students with higher needs?
    – Does one take all the money paid in teacher salaries, including medical benefits, and divide it by the number of teachers? Or some other method?
    – Do we do the same when we compare other salaries, or do some of those get calculated as salary-plus-benefits?
    – What’s at the low end, and is it sufficient, and comptetitive enough, to attract good teachers, or do we lose some of those to other districts that pay more?

    In an economy with any free markets, it isn’t exclusively an issue of how much non-teachers happen to be making, and how teacher pay compares. To some extent, one has to ask: How much do we need to pay good potential teachers to attract them to the profession, and to keep them in the profession? And to some extent, this is not exclusively a comparison question, but also a free-market and practical question: Do the figures we pay — and the working conditions, and class sizes — do these really attract and retain good teachers? I’m sure it does some. But I’m also sure that we fail to attract and/or retain many good teachers because the pay and working conditions are not right.

    And when you arrive at an “adjusted annual equivalent of $62,857,” consider:
    – Does this assume that most teachers work during the summer at the same rate of pay as they do during the school year?
    – Does it assume that they work the same number of hours per work day during the school year as the full-time employee at Menards, who doesn’t take papers home to correct, and doesn’t have meetings to attend, or special education conferences with parents and social worker, or phone calls to parents about misbehavior in the classroom, or lesson plans to prepare, or parent-teacher conferences at night? (Granted, many people in other professions work overtime, but a good number of them make more than teachers).
    – Are these safe assumptions, making the “adjusted annual equivalent” figure a good and revealing one, or are some of these assumptions to be avoided, and the figure somewhat bogus?
    – Might it vary from case to case, say, from a teacher who takes little work home, to a teacher who goes the extra mile? If some of the most talented and dedicated teachers go the extra mile and take work home, can we fault them for wanting the summer off to recover, and should the “adjusted annual equivalent” figure apply to them the same as to other teachers?
    – Isn’t there at least a hint of irony here that the most dedicated teachers, who work the hardest and put in the most hours, may end up needing more time off, and if you divide their salary by the number of hours they put in, they’re making the lowest per-hour pay? There goes that “adjusted annual equivalent”….

    (Not intended as an argument for merit pay — which I’d be fine with if it was well thought-out; but that’s an even greater tangent from the original topic of this discussion….)

    March 12, 2007
  74. Anne Bretts said:

    I covered education for a living for years, which is why I didn’t make any assumptions about class sizes — and why I have said repeatedly that we can’t make any good conclusions without accurate classroom numbers.
    As for pay, I know plenty of people who work long hours, attend meetings, give up evenings and weekends, etc., without the summer off, so the battle over who works the hardest isn’t one that will get us anywhere. I’m not complaining about the pay, just noting it.

    March 12, 2007
  75. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Anne,

    Yes, I’ll share the numbers when we get them.

    March 12, 2007
  76. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Holly, that will help a lot of us understand the options more clearly.

    March 12, 2007
  77. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi all,

    I am trying to get Ann Maple to talk here. I called to see what we can do regarding class size and we talked about how we know there is a problem but the district needs help before we can get smaller class sizes.

    I didn’t realize how messed up the funding had become over the last few years. Special Education funding is really a huge problem right now. Care to expand, Ann?

    I think it is the state level where we can make a difference regarding class size. Apparently the state committee is doing this right now.

    Ann, could you help us understand PUPS and PS Minnesota? PS Minnesota is trying to advocate for a revamp of the whole funding system… that is what I think we need.

    March 12, 2007
  78. Lisa Olson said:

    What would you (all) do with the numbers once you get them?

    I am beginning to feel helpless at this point. There seems to be no money anywhere to improve anything. (O.K. universal statements, I know – but it seems that way.)

    March 13, 2007
  79. Anne Bretts said:

    There’s no reason to feel helpless. Numbers narrow the discussion from a broad crisis to the specific dollar goal needed for a solution.
    IMHO, we need a list of all the choice programs beyond basic funding and how much they cost (electives, 7-periods, Companeros, etc.)
    We also need the baseline goal for class size (for each kind of class) and how far away from the goal we are in each class. I know some classes are big. But how many? Are we 8 teachers and 2 aides away from a solution or 30?
    Once there are numbers, teachers and parents and admininstrators can determine how to balance choices and class size, given current funding, and make a proposal to seek the remaining money needed to achieve all the goals, much as the did for the levy referendum.
    It may be that you don’t win everything the first time out. So maybe the first year goal is to get enough money to keep seven periods at the high school, the next year the goal is to add enough to maintain Companeros, etc. (just examples). But of course you have to talk to other school districts and balance your priorities against theirs so you can lobby together.
    The bigger picture, and this is daunting, is to look at the state budget and determine how those goals balance against the needs of all the other good groups seeking money. Since 40 percent of the state budget is spent on education now, it will take some really solid numbers and proposals to move some people to spend more more, especially when we need light rail and transit and we are trying to figure out how to prepare to pay for transit systems and environmental protection and healthcare for poor children and their parents — and for all the retiring Baby Boomers who have no pensions or insurance.
    I don’t mean to be negative. I want enough money for education, I really do. I just want to know for sure how much is enough.

    March 13, 2007
  80. Paul Fried said:

    Lisa: I dropped in on the conversation earlier mainly because I’ve been following the choice program and class-size debate for years. I don’t have time to do the research myself at this point, but I’m sorry to hear that you’re at a point of feeling helpless. I guess I’ve been there at one time or another about public policy issues too. You’re doing a good job raising some issues and working for a solution.

    Here are 10 suggestions, including some advice that gets passed on to me at times, and which I should try harder to take and live. For what it’s worth:

    1. Divide the research labor. One person could check to see if there are electives at the HS that have very low enrollment (what is the minimum?) and if so, we could suggest that perhaps minimum elective enrollments should, in fairness, be raised when other teachers are struggling with large classes and (at GVPES) special needs. Another person could research other questions, etc. Anne Maples, Julie Prichart, Joy Riggs and others did a wonderful job collaborating on work for the levy; they accomplished a lot, and they didn’t have to do it alone. If you spread out the labor, you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed. Bite off small chunks. Consider your limits and set your priorities carefully.

    2. Remain open-minded, not assuming too much till you and others do the necessary research. If district school board members, teachers and officials come to know you as a negative person who assumes too much before understanding the situation, they may see you coming a mile away and get ready to be defensive. It’s human nature.

    3. Staying hopeful and positive is important. There is always hope, though it often takes time, sometimes lifetimes. Some say real hope has to think ahead more than a generation. Think how the slaves felt. That took some time, and is still taking time. I think we can do more in a shorter time frame about the GVP class size issue, but you have to take the long view.

    4. Network with other parents in your child’s classroom. I know volunteering has been suggested, and the wise observation has been voiced that sometimes certain volunteers make more work for teachers than if they’d done things themselves. But many volunteers are a godsend; many work very well with children and lift large burdens from the shoulders of overburdened teachers. If you know of other parents who can volunteer, organize. Communicate with the teacher about what you can do to help, and if your attempts fall short in some way, keep the communication open with the teacher so that you can correct any troubles.

    5. Remember that, in the end, parents are responsible for their children’s education, and we just hand them over temporarily, entrusting them to schools and school systems. The children who do best are those who are read to at night by their parents when young, children whose parents ask them about their homework and check into their work, children whose parents take them to the library and limit their time on video games. If schools go through hard times, as some always will (think for a moment of the Amish school that suffered the murders…), parents and families are still the cornerstone.

    6. An active push for parent involvement among the families of those classrooms could make a huge difference. The district publishes and distributes school directories. Parents in those classrooms at GVP could call each other, encourage use of the library on weekends, reading to children, reading time at home, and encourage parents to be unafraid about setting limits when it comes to misbehavior.

    7. If my child came home complaining that a classmate hit or mistreated or used bad language with her, I would not necessarily leave it up to the teacher to be the sole overseer. When I was young, it seemed more common for parents to call one another when their children were acting like jerks, as many often do. The few times I’ve talked to other parents about such incidents, they’ve usually been very helpful and approachable. Maybe we need more of that, in a polite spirit, and maybe it would encourage more accountability and positive social development in children.

    8. Once you’ve gathered your support group around you and a larger organization of parents around, call and/or write your legislators, and then call and/or write other people’s legislators. There are only so many of them in Minnesota, and in Washington. Form letters can work. Photocopying is relatively cheap. Ask them to change the way education is funded so that class sizes are not so huge, and so that we don’t depend so much on property taxes. Ask the folks in Washington to fully fund Special Ed. and No Child Left Untested.

    9. Don’t let all this stress you out too much, to the point where it hurts the time you spend with your child/children. (If I didn’t sound like Dr. Phil before, I’m sure I do here.) Their education is richer than any classroom experience in any given year. The world, and their lives, are their classrooms.

    10. If your child/children are willing, talk to them, brainstorm about how they can help cope with the situation too. Often kids rise to the challenge in remarkable ways.

    March 13, 2007
  81. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Lisa, that is how I am beginning to feel.

    Forever I have thought the Minnesota educational funding method produced unnecessary difficulty (for example, teachers are let go because no one knows what the budget will be next year…etc.) but things have changed for the worst in the last few years.

    I didn’t realize how bad it truly had gotten these last few years. Sp.ed mandates and no real reimbursement, and a change to property tax that I don’t really understand but am figuring out is having a negative effect.

    Anne, you must have always worked on an hourly basis. MOney earned is money earned– no teacher checks come in the mail during the summer and so the family has to be financially prepared for the summer.

    You can’t say they “make equivalent to” and really get a good picture of the hours of work and money earned ratio.

    I think one year I really tried to keep track and then look at salary compared to money earned. Add up homework correcting hours, I think I made 14 dollars an hour, for 9 months of the year.

    No teachers I know are FILTHY RICH and swimming in their huge pools. Many drive the worst cars, and have outdated clothes– I suppose they could do that if they wanted to and still be rich, but I doubt that is the case for most teachers.

    AND, the electives numbers and where we spend our money isn’t a new argument. But, looking at that right now is like fixing a hangnail instead of the gash on your leg. Or, fixing a dime sized dent on your hood but forgetting about the smoking engine. Or… okay, that is enough, I guess. Do you get my point?

    What I am trying to say is that the education situation has changed within the past few years so dramatically that what we used to know about funding and prudency isn’t correct, anymore. At least for me.

    March 13, 2007
  82. Paul Fried said:

    Holly: Ray Cox says it’s not a partisan issue and cites *two whole years* (!?) of flat funding at one point from the Democrats. But things weren’t so bad then, and it’s not at all the same as the greater number of Pawlenty years of slow decreases by way of inflation and other rising costs that shorten the reach of the education dollar.

    Cox says they held spending flat, but this means they didn’t keep up with inflation and rising costs, so in effect, it was a consistent cut. Cox consistently fails to represent the numbers and the real economic picture in these ways. He oversimplifies in ways that favor his own political ideology and blind spots.

    It’s not a partisan issue inasmuch as there have been Republicans who have done great things, including some previous MN Republican governors who were good for education, and there was Ike who warned about the Military Industrial Complex, and there were the Republicans before Humphrey, who were leaders on issues of civil rights (much moreso than the Democrats). Now we have Chuck Hagel who is speaking critically of the Pres., and Rep. John Duncan of TN who has long been critical of the war in Iraq on traditionally conservative grounds. Cheers for all of them, and sure, there are good Republicans, and there’s some good in all of us.

    But it *is* a partisan issue inasmuch as Pawlenty and the former Republican House majority starved education and watch property taxes rise to keep things afloat, claiming “no new taxes!” It was irresponsible.

    Other states dealt with the economic downturn in different ways. Some with Democratic goernors did just fine, and even better, at increasing funding, and doing things like getting medical insurance for more ununsured than MN did in the same timeframe.

    So in one way, it’s not a partisan issue; in another way, it certainly was.

    There’s only so much we can do beating up one another over this on a local level. I’m for volunteerism and parent responsibility, but some of the responsibility certainly resists wtih the Governor and the former Republican MN House majority.

    March 13, 2007
  83. Anne Bretts said:

    One of the reasons people are becoming resistant to supporting education is that we’re tired of hearing how lucky all of us are and how awful life is for teachers. You seem to have no compassion at all for the people trying to keep up with rising gas prices, downsizing at work and tax bills that get bigger each year.
    Teachers work hard. So do a lot of other people. It simply is not helpful to keep telling people no one understands how much teachers suffer. No one believes teachers are rich, really. But you are not poor.
    Teachers make as much or more than soldiers in Iraq, more than most shopowners downtown, more than many nonprofit agency directors, more than the staff at most domestic violence shelters, more than small town newspaper editors, more than most hospice workers, more than most nursing home workers, farmers and loggers, more than most elected officials who answer phones and e-mails and go to meetings and events that drop their pay below minimum wage. Peace Corps workers and aid workers put their lives on the line in foreign countries for less.
    I volunteer at the Simpson Shelter in Minneapolis and the workers there put up with truly deplorable conditions, only to have to hold a drawing to determine which people get to sleep on a mattress on the floor — and which are sent to sleep outside in the middle of winter.
    Would I rather see enough mattress on the floor than more electives for high school students? Yes. And I feel great compassion for the lawmakers who have to make that choice every day.
    Retail workers stand on their feet 12 hours a day, put up with crabby customers, and then lose their commissions when a sofa doesn’t arrive on time from a factory in China. Truck drivers spend long days and weeks on the road. Airline pilots live in hotels and airports most of the month, only to have their airline hide out in bankruptcy court and eliminate the pensions that were in their contracts for years.
    Hotel managers work holidays so you can take vacations. Local insurance agents work hard and lose clients to online corporate insurance companies with cute lizards as mascots.
    Parade magazine does an annual survey of wages and it’s an eye-opener.
    As for me, well I’m not sitting by the pool either.
    I freelance. I get paid by the job, not the hour. If it takes longer, it’s my loss. If I don’t hustle more jobs, I don’t have a paycheck.
    I pay my own insurance, I have no pension, no vacations unless I work extra hours and bank the money to pay for them. I’m not saying this for sympathy. This is what I love doing. This is my choice. Teaching is a choice. It should be what you love. If it isn’t, don’t do it.
    And if you want to receive respect and compassion, please show some to others.

    March 13, 2007
  84. kiffi summa said:

    I have never had kids in the NF school district (my kids are age 45-49), but I have worked with various teen groups since I came to NF, 12 years ago. I have the utmost respect for our teachers, and the education they work so hard to help provide for the community’s youth. I personally have always thought teachers are incredibly underpaid, not just here but in Evanston, and lake Forest, IL, where my kids went to school. They have the responsibility of implementing the school systems educational plan, they are the ones”in the trenches”, and I think our society’s values are all out of whack to not reimburse them far more substantially. Teachers are worth more to society than most corporate officers; and I don’t want to hear the “corporate responsibility to their stockholders” argument for disproportionately large corporate salaries…… WE are in the stockholder position as far as the education of the community’s children; The children are our resources , both actually and philosophically, for our future. Those that guide them through their schooling deserve more dollars, besides all due respect and support . It really saddens me, and angers me , that we cannot get our state and federal gov’ts to fund to their own mandated levels.
    Priorities are all screwed up.

    March 13, 2007
  85. Deb said:

    Wow! the information, the ideas, it is so great to have such a healthy debate, but…. I am going to try to get back to what started all of this. My third grade daughter (GVP Contemporary)is going to move to the fourth grade with the same large class, the same combination of students and the same problems, that started this debate. I know that the class size issue will not be settled by next year (remember, it is a long term goal), and I have never known any political party to move with “Speed” on an issue. So, the question is, what can be done for the classes that need help before all of the dust settles? Should we support the Contingency Fund until the “long term goal” can be planned out? Should I watch her “survive” another year? I am a little new at all of this and would love some input as to what avenues I should look at. I am back to looking at the small picture (I haven’t forgotten the big one, just taking a break). Call it selfish, but my children still come first.

    Thanks Deb

    March 13, 2007
  86. Paul Fried said:

    Deb: Besides organizing and volunteering, parents in some schools have sometimes been successful at holding creative fundraisers to fund a targetted staff need. That may be another option, if Super C.R. and the school board were open to it. It’s not a use of taxpayer funds, and if parents organized it, I don’t see why they’d turn it down or insist that fundraiser money be evenly distributed.

    Kiffi: I agree with many of your sentiments, but consider the economics of low-paid child-care/daycare workers. Some daycare workers make as much or more than teachers if they do it out of their own homes. But other daycare businesses/franchises pay their help substantially less. If you have a couple where both want to work and place their children in child-care, they usually do this for economic reasons: If the spouses can *each* earn more than the daycare would cost, then having both work makes economic sense. To some extent, this means there will always be a market for low-paid childcare workers with little education or training, and to some extent this will keep down the wages of even the higher trained among them. And inasmuch as teaching is in part a form of child-care (a recent NNews letter from a middle school teacher speaks of it at times in these terms), the same will happen to teachers. These are market-factors.

    But besides market factors, teachers, nurses, ministers, priests, and artists are among those whose work could be considered “gift-based” labor: The painter or composer whose work is commissioned has an artistic gift, and seeks a living wage in the end, but the value of their art is often worth more than the commission. Likewise for those who have a real “gift” for teaching, nursing, ministry or spiritual guidance; the value of the service they provide transcends what we pay them, and sometimes the rewards that transcend the purely economic are also substantial.

    A book called “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde does a good job explaining how so-called “primative” gift-cultures work, how gifts exchanged bind together societies and cultures, and how gift-economies coexist with money-based economies in cultures like ours. Hyde implies that gift-labors like teaching, ministry and art can never be fully compensated in a purely economic way, and to try to do so would corrupt the gift: How much do you pay the minister who helps you turn your life around and save your soul, something that really can’t be purchased? How much should we have paid J.S. Bach for masterpiece compositions that have endured through centuries; or Raphael, or Michelangelo? To claim we should have paid them the same wage that the highest-paid CEO’s now receive misses the point. The best gifts keep on giving over time, and their value can’t be calculated purely by the dollar. This is true of of truly good teachers too. The best teachers inspire their pupils in ways that echo in their lives for decades, and sometimes for generations.

    But where the gift-economy meets the market-economy (like rubber meeting the road) we still have to make pragmatic decisions about how much to pay these folks so they stick around, and to keep the education-garden healthy and growing.

    March 14, 2007
  87. kiffi summa said:

    I guess my point, my very thoughtful and erudite friend, Paul, is that I think teachers should not have to think of themselves as part of a gift-exchange economy (as community volunteers do), but as a adequately reimbursed segment of society, who are valued philosphically, and that whose very important contribution to a strong citizenry/society is validated by commensurate dollar payment.

    March 14, 2007
  88. Lisa Olson said:

    Paul, I like your style!

    Thank you for your ideas regarding change and your support. We were actually planning on rallying parents to fund an aid for the last three months of this year for our two 3rd grade classes. By the time we were turned down by the board and the time came to start organizing parents in this direction, the teacher said she would just ride out the year as is. It would take a huge effort to raise that much money from the parents and community; people who are already paying taxes and supporting the levy and paying for their children’s school supplies etc.

    The other thing I have noticed as I volunteer is that most moms and dads work full time. I, being ‘at home’ most of the time, am now the exception rather than the rule. The pool of volunteers is very small. If ‘at home’ moms have preschoolers, it makes volunteering even more difficult. I have the ideal (for volunteering) situation of one child and working as self employed only a few hours a week.

    March 14, 2007
  89. Paul Fried said:

    Kiffi: Amen to all that! (I don’t deserve “very thoughtful and erudite”… but I need all the friends I can get….)

    Lisa: When I had a preschooler and one at GVP (and when I was doing the at-home dad gig), I used to collaborate with other preschooler-parents on child-care trade-offs; this way, I could drop off my daughter with a trusted neighbor/community member, and go volunteer (or go teach at MSU), and some other day of the week, I’d return the favor. It worked out great.

    (And BTW, I teach guitar out of the home when I’m not teaching at Mankato; and my daughter and I are recently up to Suzuki violin bk 3– great fun, wish I’d started decades ago.)

    March 14, 2007
  90. Anne Bretts said:

    You are indeed thoughtful and erudite.
    And Lisa, many of us without young kids would be happy to help if asked. Churches are a good place to seek volunteers. We also have an active senior center full of caring people. Some who don’t want to volunteer in school can and will volunteer child care. And some businesses will let their employees have flex time to do volunteer work. A plan with volunteer time slots and duties would make it easier to match the right people with the help that’s needed.

    March 14, 2007
  91. Paul Fried said:

    The Parents United for Public Schools site Anne Maples recommended has a good page with data about myths and realities, some of the data relating to spending and class size:

    Some highlights:

    MN ranks 36th or 37th among the states for class size and teacher-student ratio.
    (Not so good)

    We rank “3rd for putting dollars in high-poverty school districts.”
    We rank “6th for putting dollars in high-minority school districts.”
    (We have needs in these areas because test scores and graduation rates had been low in these areas compared to other states.)

    “August 15, 2006 – ‘In 1992, Minnesota ranked 15th among states in total education spending as a share of personal income, even after all the cuts to solve the state’s last budget crisis. We’re now 36th among states. Minnesota might be out of the top 10 in taxes, but we’re nearing the bottom 10 in our support for education.’
    – ‘Toward a more competitive state,’ Jay Kiedrowski and John Gunyou, Star Tribune Commentary.”

    “May 2006 – Minnesota ranked second to last (after Nevada) on educational technology, Technology Leaders: Grading the States, Education Week.”

    “Minnesota has the highest proportion of crumbling roofs of all states in the nation (62%). Thirty-eight percent (38%) of Minnesota schools have a building that needs extensive repair or should be replaced. (American Society of Civil Engineers)”

    “2004 – From 1989-90 to 2002-03, the estimated average annual public K-12 teacher salary INCREASED by 1.9% nationally, but DECREASED by 7.2% in Minnesota; Minnesota ranked 3rd in the nation behind Alaska and Kansas for the greatest decline in teacher salary during this time period, Digest of Education Statistics.”

    “June 2004 – From 2002 to 2003, Minnesota’s ranking plummeted from 8th to 24th in K-12 expenditures per pupil and fell from 17th to 29th among the 50 states in average teacher salaries”

    We also rank highly in some areas:

    “Minnesota ranks first in the nation for having the highest proportion of both 4th and 8th graders scoring at the highest two levels in math. The proportion of Minnesota 8th graders who scored at the highest levels in math increased by 74% between 1990 and 2000. (National Center for Education Statistics)”

    “Minnesota ranks among the best – 4th out of 50 states – in the proportion of high school graduates with scores in the top 20% nationally on either ACT or SAT exams. (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2002)”

    “Minnesota public schools teachers are the most qualified teachers in the country. They rank 1st out of 50 states, based on 12 indicators of teacher qualification. (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future)”
    (Then why don’t we pay them better?)

    “In FY 2004 State and Local Expenditures as a percent of personal income, Minnesota Ranked:
    28th on Elementary and Secondary Education Spending
    37th on Higher Education Spending
    36th on Total Education Spending
    That same year, Minnesota ranked 16th in total state and local tax collections and 28th on state and local direct general expenditures. Compared to the U.S. average, Minnesotan’s spent $4.63 more per $1,000 of personal income, with expenditures above average in public welfare, highways and natural resources/parks.”
    (In other words, instead of needing a state constitutional ammendment dedicating a certain percent of auto fees to road repair, we were already above average in that area, and needed education-spending reform even more).

    March 14, 2007
  92. Paul Fried said:

    Anne B. and Holly:
    I understand and sympathize Anne’s argument about how things are tough for others too, not just teachers. And I certainly support shelter for the homeless.

    And yet among the many possible priorities we could have as a state for spending, education should rank among the top few. And it should be funded more from income tax than from property tax.

    If a company invests more in improving its products and services in a quest to become the first in their market, and if they can still make a profit, we’re often fine with that. Strive for excellence and quality. Go for it.

    But there’s an even greater value to a state striving to be a leader among other states, and in the world, in education. Even the children of the poor and working class benefit from a good and globally-competitive quality of education, unlike the example of the company striving to be first in a market; in that example, the company, stockholders and customers benefit most, but when we invest in schools, even the children of all the most hard-working and under-paid benefit.

    And furthermore, when a state is more competitive globally and with other states in the quality of education, this attracts businesses that seek a skilled and educated workforce. Republican Governor Elmer Anderson (30th gov. in MN, in the 60’s) understood that, and David Bly (in a non-partisan spirit) has often quoted him regarding his support for education in that way. Businesses sometimes try relocating to states where there is cheaper labor (and lower quality education), only to return for the better-educated workforce in MN.

    So in that way, I don’t think that investing more in schools, reducing class size, and paying teacher better are a matter of taking from one sector, or from working class taxpayers, or that it disproportionately benefits teachers. Many, many people would benefit.

    And if some taxpayers are too over-extended financially, buying cars and homes and other things that take up too much of their monthly income (this describes far too many of us), then we should not lay the blame at the feet of those who are working to improve education and increase spending. Lay the blame at the feet of those who are over-extended, or the culture that pushes it and the materialism in general. But not at those rallying to improve education or help it get a bigger slice of the pie.

    If I lived in a smaller house, and drove a slightly older car, I could afford a vacation more often, and could donate more money to help a homeless shelter expand its bed-space, etc. If we’re going to talk about fiscal and individual responsibility, it cuts in that direction too (so I don’t complain about how rare my trips or vacations are).

    March 14, 2007
  93. Holly Cairns said:


    Good job Anne for volunteering at the shelter. You make a huge difference by doing stuff like that. You must have a kind heart.

    I think good education might help people from ending up in a homeless shelters. Couple that with a better health care system(which includes help for people who might have mental health care issues) and we could put a dent in the homeless population.

    I’ve volunteered(just a few times)at Sharing and Caring Hands and when whole families come in(two adults and kids)I just feel terrible.

    I am a firm believer in “prevention.” Example: I ran and did the curriculum for the first FREE POPS in Faribault and I don’t know how much of what I suggested they used– but at that time, we were trying to do “primary violence prevention.”

    We called it Free Pops since I hung up signs that said “Free Pop” and then I asked the kids what they wanted to call the program– they said call it “Free Pops.” Hanging up signs that said Primary Violence Prevention meeting didn’t seem like a good idea.

    I had, sometimes, about 30 kids from the neighborhood show up and play soccer or kickball with me AND THEN I snuck in a little learning. No free pop or food stuff unless you gave the half hour of learning. The key turned out to be that I played right along with them (Pregnant, but what the heck.)

    We chose a high density housing area out of ease for transportation. One session we did was on rape, one was on jobs (you should have seen what they wrote when I took their first answers and said “Now write down what you’ll really going to be… after they changed their answers, I scolded them for changing their first answer and we talked about expectations and how to reach their dreams, which were things like “to be a marine biologist”.) Etc.

    None of that wouldn’t have happened without proper funding from the State Patrol for what was primary violence education. I venture to guess that we made a huge impact because I got them to divulge so much stuff/help each other that there was no way they weren’t effected. (And surveying the parents seemed to show results). I didn’t stick with the program for more than one year, BTW.

    I think education is the name of the game and place high priority on a good system. If we don’t invest in learning, the impacts will be far reaching into society.

    Like Kiffi said, what are our priorities? If we really look at what we think is important, we might see that we wouldn’t get what we wanted without a good education.

    And our system is struggling. Big changes in the last few years. New mandates and trouble. Not the same situation as a few years ago, as I had originally assumed when I joined this discussion.

    March 14, 2007
  94. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Holly, and I agree that prevention is important, but I wouldn’t increase funding for prevention while people are sleeping in the cold. I think we’ve exhausted the big picture discussion. It would be nice to start a new thread when people want to focus on real numbers and priorities on a local and state level. As I said, I’m willing to work on solutions, but the philosophical discussion of the relative worthiness of people’s careers and ephemeral and unending crisis in education has no end.
    I end my contributions for now with the question I asked in the beginning:
    What exactly is the problem and how much money is enough? No one has come close to answering, not in all my 20 years of asking.

    March 14, 2007
  95. Lisa Olson said:

    Don’t have much time at the moment but wanted to respond to the big picture discussion. I chanced to hear, on Ch. 17 a Rep Mindy Greiling, DFL. Maybe some of you who are more experienced in this stuff than I, know of her. She said all the stuff we have been saying about education. She wants to raise the taxes of the wealthy (family income of over 120,000 and single of over 70,000) to where they were before and or to match the percentage of income paid with the lower and middle classes. She has figured out how much this would produce. She mentioned the mandated special needs programs which are not being adequately funded. She mentioned that the schools need an increase of 3% every year just to say level. I think we should find out more about her and her ideas and see how we can support her if it seems right. She sure sounded ‘right’ to me.

    March 14, 2007
  96. Lisa Olson said:

    Mindy Greiling (DFL) 54A
    * 381 State Office Building
    100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155
    (651) 296-5387


    * Prefers interim mail at this address.

    March 16, 2007
  97. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi, thanks Lisa! That’s great! Something to DO for a change.

    March 16, 2007
  98. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Strib South section:

    Changes are afoot for Spanish program: Northfield’s popular Compañeros Spanish-immersion program could get its own magnet school or have enrollment capped while the district evens out class sizes.

    March 28, 2007
  99. Lisa Olson said:

    Yes Griff,these are the last two options the board is concidering. these options will be discussed at the next school board meeting. See website for time and place.

    March 29, 2007
  100. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi all,

    I was trying to remember what happened regarding class size (specifically high school class size.) Can anyone refresh my memory?

    July 27, 2007
  101. Christine Stanton said:

    I think I am now an “addicted blogger.” What a great discussion. I just logged on and have only made it halfway through the posts, but one idea is swirling around in my head.

    I remember as a Longfellow Elementary surdent back in the 60’s and 70’s we had what they called “enrichment activites.” If I remember correctly, on one Friday a month we could sign up for a special activity that day.

    That made me wonder about what it might be like to offer that same type of thing on a more regular basis. It would be simular to selecting college classes. There would be the the “required” (whatever that would include) classes that would be taken in your main classrom, but then there would be a part of the day or of the week for an elective. Spanish could be one of those electives.

    One could argue that this type of option would not allow for the benefits of learning through immersion. However, looking at the results of the study that ws referred to of Northfield’s program, it seems that the immersion type of program is not having the benefits one would expect at this point.

    Please excuse me if someone has already mentioned this type of option. Like I said, I have not made it through all the posts yet. Also, I do not claim to be any sort of expert on the issue. Maybe my comments are naive, but I wanted to throw them out there anyways.

    July 28, 2007
  102. Christine Stanton said:

    I realize that my last post was added out of the context of the thread. Just to be clear, my thoughts related to the issue of how we could offer options for enrichment (like Compenaros sp?) and also balance class size. Now that I have read more of the posts, I feel even less qualified to enter the discussion. The issue is very complicated.

    Also, I have to add that I would be very disappointed if the Reading Readiness Program was cut. I have personally seen the “nip it in the butt” strategy work.

    July 28, 2007
  103. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Christine,

    The kids seem to sign up for a lot more electives than we had long ago (’86 NHS)– but I think they sign up in the spring– it is much like you suggest, but on paper instead of online.

    I am glad for choice and so I wouldn’t be the one to advocate for less electives. In fact, I wish there were ILP’s (and funding) for “gifted”, etc.– and I wish we truly offered classes based on various learning styles and talents. That’s where I think the system fails to inspire, etc.

    Limiting class size sounds pretty good to me but I wonder what the consequences would be…

    While I am thinking about it, long ago we NHS juniors and seniors took classes at St. Olaf and Carleton– and NHS didn’t have a lot of AP classes. I wonder if the current AP classes are better for the majority of kids, or what would be cheaper… etc.

    Geez, I can’t even wrap my brain around the concept of 45 kids in a regular classroom.

    I remember classes of 36 being a nightmare for me as a new teacher– younger teachers often seem to get the worst of it and they are just learning. Answer: Why don’t we advocate that it be the tenured, old, and wise teachers who are awarded the largest classes? Ha ha. Then we’d see some negotiation.

    But we’re in such a money pickle. What’s the real answer, I don’t know. I just want to know what is happening right now as they figure out schedules and assign classes to new teachers, etc.

    After my kids graduate (my youngest has four more years) I’ll still vote “yes” for any levy or bond– but I won’t be that interested in small details. Seems like education runs in cycles… Feels like the ’70’s, again, to me… Glad we’re out in four more years. Good luck to you who have kids in elementary school.

    July 28, 2007
  104. Christine Stanton said:

    Maybe I can do my part to keep a dead conversation (one that interests me) going. I realize that the powers the be, “thimruve…” or who ever they want to be referred to as, have the power to sensor my post, but I am going to post it anyways.

    I have been following the other conversations, and I have to say that I am confused about Bright’s comment regarding having things in Northfield to draw families and children. Was that a joke or not? I am a little slow sometimes.

    Like Holly, I am glad that my youngest will be a junior this year. And, like Holly, I will continue to support our schools by voting “yes.”

    Just to add to my last post, I know that electives have been a problem at the HS, and maybe there are too many for us to support. Yet, I still see how elective classes on a small scale might offer all our elementary kids options.

    I feel like I walked into a room, and everyone stopped talking. Let’s keep this conversation going.

    July 30, 2007
  105. Lisa Olson said:

    Actually, we haven’t been ‘talking’ for months. This entire issue came to the fore when I complained to the board about 30 kids in two of the Greenvale 3rd grades. Then the board looked at class size as a district wide issue. I had no idea that the H.S. had upwards of 40 in some of their rooms. I just knew that 60 3rd graders were being greatly shortchanged for the second year in a row. The board did approve a $150,000 contingency fund to help out with class size district wide. So, we shall see if that is enough to make a marked difference this year. The needs are great throughout the district.

    Don’t expect a lively discussion, we wrapped up last winter.

    July 30, 2007
  106. Holly Cairns said:

    I asked NHS Principal Leer about this (and I also asked them to discuss homework and what is reasonable)–

    It doesn’t seem like there is any specific effort to reduce class size at NHS. Further, I didn’t hear about any district decision to restore NHS teachers (severe cuts for a few years in a row and now we are living with it…)

    Just wondered what people had heard– it’s “that time of year” for setting schedules and the like.

    Sorry, Lisa, to bring this up again after you got your answer for Greenvale.

    July 30, 2007
  107. Griff Wigley said:

    Delighted to see this conversation revived. Carry on!

    August 2, 2007
  108. Lisa Olson said:

    Holly, I do not have an answer for Greenvale. We are still up in the air and have lost our principal to boot! Now someone new will need to pick up the ball and run with it.

    I cannot imagine running a class of 45 highschoolers, even if it is mostly a lecture class. In our grade school we have kids who I don’t think will even make it that far, though, if they don’t get more academic attention now. It is a painful dilemma all around.

    Now with the bridge collapse, bet we don’t get any more money allocated to education when bridges need to be properly maintained.

    August 2, 2007
  109. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Lisa,

    Yes, there seems to be such a lack of dollars.

    The bridge collapse is a terrible thing, isn’t it… my gosh. I guess the Lake Street Bridge collapsed years ago, too?

    I guess I heard more about education dollars– the legislature voted to fully fund special education and I wonder if this doesn’t help Northfield as much as other districts (I am not against fully funding special ed, just thinking out loud that Northfield won’t receive as much of the funding).

    It would have been nice to have at least a 3% increase overall this year. Isn’t 4% a “cost of living” increase? I think they settled on 2%…

    August 5, 2007
  110. Holly Cairns said:

    Who noticed the
    Northfield News
    article about class size reduction at Greenvale and NHS? Hooray! We’re on the right track. Let’s keep going in that direction…

    Are the Greenvale people happy with the efforts?

    August 18, 2007
  111. What is the possibility of teaching Spanish in other ways,
    via community volunteers? distribution of Spanish learning
    materials-of which there are many types-using online computer
    offerings and other supplemental lessons?

    We see that so many people in Europe speak English now and in
    the past decades, how did they accomplish it?


    August 19, 2007
  112. Please pardon my error in #113 above, I meant to say teaching English, not Spanish.


    August 19, 2007
  113. Holly Cairns said:

    Those are good ideas, Bright.

    August 19, 2007
  114. Thank you, Holly. A receptive audience is an inspirational one.
    So I will offer you yet another hopefully good idea. How about
    a program for high school students who have teaching and other
    social services careers in mind, where they would receive credit
    for stepping into classrooms at Greenvale and working/learning
    as teacher aids? They could take small groups and work with them,
    or serve to directly help teachers with various aspects of work.
    Even an hour or two per student per week per classroom would serve to free up some energy, introduce a new sparkle, and make possible things that might otherwise fall to the wayside.


    August 19, 2007
  115. Paul Fried said:

    I don’t know if Greenvale is happy with the class size reduction efforts — I think (correct me if I’m wrong) only some went into effect before the end of the last school year. Extra help in the classroom is nice, but it’s still hard if you have some classes set because of Companeros, and other classes that might, by chance, or economics, or issues of parental availability or discipline, have issues that make it hard.

    But I do know that Greenvale improved in its test scores and is no longer in the No-Child-Left-Untested doghouse. They may have even done better in some areas than at least one other Nfld school. They don’t get as much good press as they deserve, in part, because Bridgewater is much more photogenic. But I don’t think the problem was ever with the Greenvale teachers. I think it had more to do with variables that are harder to manage.

    There are some changes coming at Greenvale: Some children in Companeros are leaving for other schools, and I hear they may have one class in 4th grade this year or 5th next, as a result of limits and/or student moves/school choices. I know of one GPES Companeros 4th-grader from a bilingual family who will be going to Prairie Creek because her brother goes there, they have an opening, and because they don’t want to be left out in the cold if limits are set and she’s no longer in the program in 5th grade, but perhaps there are no openings at Prairie Creek then.

    It’s messy stuff.

    Maybe we need to cut education funding so we can give our State Transportation Commissioner a raise for how well she explained her decision to have the I-35E bridge merely inspected more often, rather than reinforced as recommended? As Tom Neuville says, teachers get the summers off, after all, so it’s not the same as full-time, year-round work. We so appreciate when our public officials are working so hard to save on tax-dollars, and when the Governor vetos the added tier for income tax to protect the wealthy, to whom we should be grateful, some say, for creating so many jobs (they cut jobs too, but we forget). Inspires us all to be more fiscally responsible, which in turn inspires us all to work harder at helping our kids with their homework, taking more initiative as parents, which means we’ll have to spend even less on education in future years, when, to paraphrase Grover Norquist, we’ve shrunken government to a size where we can strangle it and finally be free (except for the feds and the Military-Industrial Complex).

    I think there will come a time when we’ll see public-funded schools and police and mail and government as the socialist conspiracy and redistribution of wealth that it is, and opt either for tax-free anarchy or a simple dictatorship, which Bush says he’d be fine with as long as he’s the dictator.

    I might stop by the Governor’s mansion later today to volunteer to mow his lawn and wash his car, so we can perhaps reduce class sizes a bit more. But hey, we have to be grateful. Even if the glass is only one-quarter full, that’s better than nothing, or a dictator, or a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, eh?

    August 19, 2007
  116. Lisa Olson said:

    Paul, and all, As a parent from GVP with a soon-to-be 4th grader I am not happy with the outcome. I am pleased with the recognition and the efforts, but the last I knew, only a 0.5 FTE was hired to help with the larger contemporary class. This will actually create more transitions for the kids as they are shuffled back and forth between two or three teachers. Since transitions and focus are challenging for many in this group, I’m not sure this help is the best for them. Then again, having another person to teach is better than 30 in a room all day.

    Regarding last year, nothing went into effect with contingency funds last year. Our principal scraped some funds together from the building fund (I believe it was) and was able to hire a math teacher for two hours a day; one for the over crowded 5th grade and one for the 3rd grade.

    I do not know the other two grade schools the way I know GVP, but I would have to say, that so far, the staff I am familiar with is second to none.

    Regarding Prairie Creek – that’s great if you can get in. I’ve been trying for a year now.

    There are programs where collage students assist in the class rooms once a week or so for a term.

    August 20, 2007
  117. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Paul: Did you hear the House wanted 3% but the gov vetoed it? That’s why there was only a 2% increase (doesn’t cover inflation, does it?) Am I right about that? How are you doing, by the way? Long time no talk.

    Bright, re: have the older kids help in the elem classrooms. That’s a great idea . I think it does take a special kind of kid to do what you suggest, though– I think you should call the GATES coordinator and suggest it… or call NHS, I guess.

    August 21, 2007
  118. Paul Fried said:

    Holly: I know the Gov. vetoed the 4th tier and budget-related things not to his liking, and it seemed that the Democratic majority in the MN house and Senate didn’t feel they had enough votes to override a veto, so they came up with something signable. When the stuff is happening, I have a hard time even listening to the news on the radio about MN politics, so I don’t know exactly how the education spending played out up to what was signed.

    Lisa: Thanks for the information about Greenvale. 4th grade will still be an issue, but in 2nd grade, the “contemporay” and Companeros still have some imbalance, now going in the other direction: Two sections of contemporary with around 18 each, and two sections of Companeros with 26 each (again, this is grade 2).

    I like the neighborhood school idea, but one drawback is that there seems to be a roller-coaster in terms of some of the student population. How can you be certain that the families living near Sibley, for instance, will be timing their childbirths somewhat in sync with one another so that you’ll maintain a certain number of classrooms for each grade? Impossible.

    This leads to a good argument for somewhat flexible boundaries to adjust for population fluctuations. If we could be just a bit flexible, not whole-hog, it might be a little more expensive with bussing, but I can’t imagine it being a fortune. If families wanted the younger child to attend the same school as the older sibling at the same school, the district would be a bit flexible. It might be just a matter of asking certain kids to walk a block in a different direction to catch a differen bus.

    But maybe someone has already thought about that, and maybe it’s just too hard, even with a great computer and software program, to look at where the school families live and tweak the boundaries so class sizes are a little more balanced. Or maybe they have (or could generate) maps with dots for where all the families in a given grade live, and maybe it could be done manually, mostly for new students (not asking, say, a 4th grader to switch schools).

    Anyone know how the boundary issues are deliberated?

    August 21, 2007
  119. Lisa Olson said:

    Paul, I know that two years ago (maybe 3) the district changed the boundaries when Companeros was divided up among Bridgewater and GVP. At that time a promise was made not to change the boundaries for the foreseeable future – maybe a certain number of years was given – because families were in such an upheaval over so many needing to switch schools. Flux boundaries were discusses at a few board meetings, but not adapted as a possible solution because it puts the same group of neighborhoods in the flux area over and over again. I hope this makes sense – I am functioning on too little sleep today….

    August 22, 2007
  120. Holly, I have just now sent a note of suggestion to the high school.
    Hope they get to see it with all there is to see these days.


    August 22, 2007
  121. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi, flux boundaries = nightmare.

    By the way, did they discuss having GP be grades 1-3, Sibley be 4-5, etc? Ha ha. That brings about the graduating class size problem– one large graduating class, another smaller the year after.

    If we only had a few dollars. I remember classes of 15!!!! I remember teaching classes of 15! Remember when that was ‘good education’ rather than ‘a waste of dollars’?


    August 22, 2007
  122. Holly Cairns said:

    oh, and good work, bright 🙂 Better to DO something than just sit and see

    August 22, 2007
  123. […] a February 2007 discussion thread on class sizes in the district on LocallyGrown, there was considerable discussion of the impact of the Compañeros Program on class sizes, […]

    August 5, 2008

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