The DFL convention came to a close last night shortly before midnight with Margaret Anderson-Kelliher securing the endorsement after a spirited battle for delegates. I returned home this morning, a bit weary but energized as well. The candidates were extremely passionate in speech after speech offering insight about what we could do as a state with new vision in the Governor’s office. When not working the crowd myself, I sat with friends and neighbors, District 25 delegates, for much of the day. One of those delegates, an eighteen year old and former student in my Civics class, experienced his first State party convention. Others had years and years of convention experience. Delegates had different ideas about who the next Minnesota Governor should be. Four of us sitting in close proximity, all cast different votes for different candidates: Rybak, Kelliher, Marty, and Thissen, eventually settling in on the two candidates left standing. When Rybak conceded at around 11:30pm we all shook hands, donned our Anderson-Kelliher buttons, headed into the Duluth evening knowing there would be much work left to do.
Much of the work of the Education committee over the past few weeks has been on Race To The TOP (RTTT). Last Friday I attended a three hour meeting at the Minnesota Dept. of Education and this morning I was a part of the Joint House and Senate Education Committee. Today’s discussion focused on the Governor’s proposal for Round Two of the application process, specifically in areas where Minnesota scored low on its initial application. The committee took up three items. Two of those included alternative teacher licensing and using a student growth model as a measure of teacher effectiveness. I wasn’t sold. The main questions I still have, will these proposals close the achievement gap, improve graduation rates, or raise the bar for under performing schools?
The third item made some sense: using teacher mentoring and staff development to improve classroom instruction. But we can do more. Let’s focus on proven strategies we know can make a difference. Let’s invest in early education and all day kindergarten. Let’s support after school programs, extended school, and summer intervention programs. School counselors, school social workers, and strong parent and community involvement is essential. Let’s demand reasonable class sizes. Let’ be sure our professional development funds improve teacher quality and raise expectations. Staff development must include strategies and measures for aligning curriculum with accepted core standards and outcomes. Let’s give teachers time to collaborate and develop lesson plans that improve student learning across disciplines.
With over 200 applicants for every teacher opening in my school district, let’s make sure we hire the best and brightest teachers. More importantly, make sure we weed out ineffective teachers during the three year probationary period. Let’s provide ongoing peer review and mentoring programs for all teachers. Let’s beef up teacher preparation programs in our colleges and universities. Let’s consider student loan forgiveness in under served areas.
We can all agree that teacher quality is important, and we can do better with the system we have. Federal dollars would be nice, but money and an unreasonable deadline should not drive our state’s education policy. There were plenty of good ideas presented at this morning’s meetings. The Governor’s tired proposals regarding teacher quality were not among them.
The Boy Scouts of America celebrated its centennial anniversary in February of this year. The largest youth organization in the United States, it has 2.8 million youth members and 1.1 million adult leaders in the programs of cub scouting, boy scouting, and venturing. Since 1910, more that 111 million have participated in the organization’s traditional programs. The organization was granted a federal charter in 1916 by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.
Today I attended the presentation of the Eagle Scout rank to Bradley Walechka of LeCenter, Minnesota. As a Civics teacher, I teach young people about the importance of citizenship, patriotism, and service to one’s community and nation. But family, friends, community, and organizations like the Boy Scouts of America are pivotal in supporting and nurturing our young men and women to become the best citizens our communities can hope for. The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling them the values of the Scout Oath and Law: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”
Annually, scouts and their leaders volunteer over 35 million hours of service to their communities through more than 75,000 service projects, meeting a wider range of needs in the areas of food, shelter, education, and environmental conservation.
Congratulations Boys Scouts of America on your 100th Anniversary Celebration. Congratulations, Bradley. Your success and your efforts give us all reason to be proud of our next generation of citizens …and our country’s future.
Growing up, the Public Library was always one of my favorite stops when headed downtown. It provided a lot of fond memories. I recall the joy in reading every one of the books in the Hardy Boys series. Having completed that goal, I even started reading the Nancy Drew mysteries (although I never shared that with the neighbor kids). Signing your name to the library card was always a source of pride and satisfaction. Seeing classmates, neighbors, town folks both young and old, gathered at the library was a comforting part of my childhood, an experience I will happily pass on to my own children.
Yesterday, I attended the grand opening of the Lonsdale Public library. Judging by the number of people in attendance, you knew that this brand new facility, with both library and a beautiful new community room, was a popular and welcome addition to their town. Neighbor to the Three Links Care facility, it provides a great space for citizens of all ages to come together to share not only the joy that books can bring, but a reason and opportunity to visit and share time with each other.
While the Northfield Carnegie Library will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this April, the brand new Lonsdale library becomes only the 2nd new library to be built in Minnesota in the past year. That is a great accomplishment. Whether brand new or a century old, the town library strengthens a community through literacy, providing access to information, intellectual freedom, and fostering lifelong learning and enrichment.
At a time when community budgets become strained due to economic realities, we need to do whatever we can to support these valuable community assets. The services, programs, and resources, and memories they provide are too valuable to take for granted.
Today I was reminded of the 1970 movie “Cold Turkey” starring Dick Van Dyke. It was the fictional story of Eagle Rock, Iowa where the entire community pledged to quit smoking. Their reward should they succeed? $25,000,000.
In the Senate Energy committee today, we heard from the students and community members of Rothsay, Minnesota who, with the help of Ottertail Power Company, hope to reduce the entire community’s energy use by 15% over the next 5 years.
Since April of 2009, this town of 500 and home to the world’s largest Prairie Chicken, has been conducting energy audits for businesses and homes, analyzing bills, providing education workshops and consultations, and providing low interest financing to meet their goal. Smart monitors have been placed in residential homes. School curriculum has been created to help students lead community wide efforts to get pledges and information to community members. Ottertail Power is making community and school connections while providing resources and tracking information to its new community partners.
Seeing middle school and high school students take leadership roles in this endeavor is one of the most satisfying aspects of the project. Changing existing behaviors (both adults and students) seems to be one of the biggest challenges. While Minnesota’s Next Generation Act looks to increase energy efficiency goals statewide, we are anxious to hear more about the Rothsay Community Energy challenge. We hope to apply lessons and solutions learned on a much larger scale. Decreasing our nation’s energy demands is a great example for not only small town America, but for our nation and our precious planet. The rewards are immeasurable.