Creators, not complainers, move things ahead

Nathan-on-Education-newPeople like John Benson, Fred Easter, Mike Farley, Cam Hedlund, Dan Hoverman, Jay Haugen, Linda Madsen, Curt Tryggestad and Colleen Wambach are on the correct side of what I think is the most important debate, of many in public education: The question is, “Can we, right now, create a much more effective system for students and a much more satisfying system for educators?”

Let’s start with former Little Falls, now Eden Prairie Supt. Curt Tryggestad, He recognized the incredible, daily growing knowledge available “online.” So he reallocated some of the secondary “textbook” dollars to purchase iPads for secondary schools, and helped arrange training to help students and teachers make effective use of that money.

Mounds View Supt. Dan Hoverman and former Irondale High School Principal Colleen Wambach have helped demonstrate what’s possible. They, and teachers in the district, created a program that allows a wide range of students at Irondale to earn an associate arts degree, while still in high school.

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

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

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

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

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

Cam Hedlund and Linda Madsen defy what some believe — that district and charter educators are competitors, and as one district superintendent told me, “enemies.” Hedlund, director of Lakes International Charter, and Madsen, superintendent of Forest Lake, recently received a statewide award from the Humphrey School and the Bush Foundation. It honors their collaboration.

Madsen told me, “It was an honor to receive this award.”

They deserved it. They recognize each other’s strengths and are using them to serve students.

Superintendent Jay Haugen of Farmington and his colleagues have created a brief, You-Tube video using cartoons to help explain the need for and possible features of “A New Design.” You can find it at youtube.com/watch?v=B1bOIcnVI3g.

Sometimes I’m told, “They won’t let us…”

“They” might be a school board, a superintendent, a union or a state department. Folks like those named above spend more time creating, less time complaining. They move things ahead.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, is director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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