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Schools have long list of legislative concerns

South Washington County Schools officials gave local lawmakers a big wish list for the upcoming legislative session.

School officials asked lawmakers to get rid of the ban on starting school before Labor Day, modify state tests, help the district gain the Crosswinds school in Woodbury and promote early learning.

Attending the Jan. 10 meeting were Sen. Susan Kent and Reps. JoAnn Ward and Andrea Kieffer, all of Woodbury. Reps. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park and Denny McNamara of Hastings also attended. Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove did not attend.

Superintendent Keith Jacobus said more innovation is needed to help students get ready for the future and asked legislators for more flexibility by getting rid of the state ban on starting school before Labor Day, a topic considered in every legislative session.

"I voted for it," Kieffer said.

The increased flexibility needs to include new definitions for "seat time," Jacobus said. Having students in desks in classrooms determines the amount of funding districts get but it no longer fits the situation for educating students in 2013, he said.

Not included in seat time are internships outside the school or learning elsewhere under independent study.

When a student masters the material in a language arts class, they should be allowed to move on to the next class level. Some students take 30 days and others take 300, said Keith Ryskoski, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

Because of the areas that need to be covered for annual state testing in the spring, there is not enough time to do "deep thinking" that students will need in college. Current test preparation stops kids from the love of learning, Jacobus said.

The need for them to know what's now being taught "is not as great as you might think," he said.

Special education was another area of concern. Special education has not been fully funded because of a prorated formula has been used since the 1970s, school officials said. More money would allow the district to address the needs of "at risk" students, said Jeff Jorgensen, special education director.

Kindergarten funding

While the Legislature is expected to consider a proposal to fund all-day kindergarten for all students, District 833 wants to go in a different direction.

All-day kindergarten is not the issue, according to Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent for elementary education. The district is in its third year of offering half-day pre-kindergarten classes for 4-year olds, attended by 50 percent of those eligible, and the gains have been phenomenal, he said.

The goal to have all students reading by third grade is attainable, he said, if the emphasis is placed on getting kids ready for kindergarten.

All-day kindergarten, which 60 percent of eligible kids attend, is not for all children, Bernhardson said.

The district also wants the Legislature to help with improving safety in school buildings.

Funding needs to continue for the Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System to evaluate teachers, and for integration, said District 833 Finance Director Aaron Bushberger, that pays for teacher training for classes to help close the achievement gap between white students and those of color.

"The time for computer labs has passed," Ryskosski said.

Because of state testing, computer labs are not available for learning, Jacobus said.

Students should be testing on hand-held computer devices, Ryskoski said, in addition to participating in online learning.

Crosswinds acquisition

Jacobus also got legislators up to speed with information about the possibility of District 833 acquiring Crosswinds school in Woodbury.

The school is operated by the East Metro Area Integration District, which can no longer afford to operate it because 10 member school districts have withdrawn their funding in order to operate integration programs in their own districts.

On a year-round schedule with a focus on art and science with about 300 students, the school is half full of students from grades 6-10.

District 833 wants to take over the school but the Perpich Center for the Arts and Intermediate School District 916 are also interested.

Jacobus said 833 is the only metropolitan entity that can take over the school.

District 833 needs the school to address growth concerns but would not continue operating the existing program, he told lawmakers.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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