Friday, October 29, 2010

Voting Information, Q-Comp Timelines, Union Halloween Candy

Voting Information:  One of the reasons educators have the influence we do on public policy is that we have one of the highest voting rates of any group out there.  Continue that proud tradition by voting this Tuesday.  To check where you vote, find out how same day voter registration works, or answer any other questions you may have about voting, visit the Secretary of State’s voting page at  Be sure to wear you “I voted” sticker to school to model to your students the importance of voting.

Q-Comp Update:  The Minnesota Department of Education has finished its review of our proposal and will be giving us their feedback next week.  After we answer any final questions they have, the full proposal will be ready for a more specific review by all of you.  We will begin member meetings around the district beginning the week of November 8th to give members a chance to get more detailed information and ask questions.  Our goal is to be ready to vote on the proposal by mid December.

Chocolaty Ways to Support Good Jobs:  If you buy Halloween candy, justify eating one of the bags before the little ghouls and goblins hit your door by choosing union made candy this year.  The following candy manufacturers have treats made in the U.S. by workers with fair wages and safe working conditions:  Tootsie Roll, NECCO, Just Born Products (know for Peeps, Mike & Ikes, Hot Tamales), Sweethearts brand Conversation Hearts, Jelly Belly, Pearson’s Candies, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., Hershey, and Nestle Products.  Note:  Some of these companies outsource some of their production.  Imported food, including candy, must carry a country of origin label—so check for that to be sure your chocolate binge is benefitting the economy.  For a full list of products, visit

Monday, October 25, 2010

Statement to the School Board on School Climate for LGBT Students and Staff

Here is the statement AHEM president Julie Blaha gave at tonight's school board meeting at the direction of the Representative Assembly:

Chair Heidemann, Superintendent Carlson, Members of the Board:

My name is Julie Blaha and I am the president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota.  AHEM is our local teachers’ union representing over 2700 educators in the Anoka Hennepin School District.  I am here on behalf of our Representative Assembly, which is our governing body made up of representatives from each of our sites across the district.  They’ve directed me to discuss school climate issues relating to LGBT students and staff.

We have worked hard over the past few years to develop effective ways of addressing academic concerns in our district.  Just as we would take a systematic, student centered, researched approach to solving problems of achievement in our district, we should take a similar approach to our school climate. I would like to focus my remarks as kind of an assessment of our actions to date to create a better school climate for LGBT students and staff, and provide ideas for going forward. 

Let’s begin with an assessment of where we are right now.

Our suicide rate for students has increased, and a disproportionate number of those tragedies have involved LGBT students.  Over the past year, several students have come forward and described facing intolerable conditions at school because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. 

Last January, in response these issues as well as changes in LGBT materials for our SEED classes, questions around the Day of Silence, and media coverage of an incident with a student, you may remember we asked for clear guidance and staff development around our sexual orientation curriculum policy and school climate issues in regards to LGBT students.

Though some staff received training on dealing with suicide, we hadn’t seen specific information by March, so we put out one of our pieces on creating safe spaces for GLBT students and staff to each of our members. 

Over the summer, school policy videos were created for students that contained segments on bullying language that addressed anti-gay slurs and a short PowerPoint presentation was created for secondary staff at middle and high schools.  Some staff members have also received a grid with hypothetical situations intended to clarify the neutrality statement in our sexual orientation curriculum policy.  At back to school workshops, teachers were told if they did not stop bullying behaviors they would be disciplined.  Some staff have also received copies of district press materials responding to media reports. 

To date, only those who have taken optional training like SEED classes or the Gary Howard training on cultural competency have had actual discussion about these topics.

In the media, we have seen statements ranging from things to the effect of “this is not something we are going to deal with” to “staff won’t be disciplined for supporting gay students”.  Statements to our members from district leadership have ranged from “if you don’t respond to bullying you will face disciplinary action” to last week’s message that we accept all of our students as normal and valued.

In short, we have taken some steps to improve our school climates, but they have not been all in the same direction.  There are a number of conflicting messages floating around.  We have had one way communication, but little actual discussion and virtually no assessment of whether our steps have made any progress forward.

Our next steps need to be creating a more focused, coherent plan to improve our school climate for LGBT students and staff.  Just as we would do if math test scores were low, let’s follow our processes of understanding the problem, making a plan, taking action, and assessing the results of those actions.

To help those first two steps along, I’ve provided a report from the Great Lakes Research Center released on September 30th titled Safe at School.  The report was commissioned by the regional research arm of the National Education Association of which our union is a member.  The report created by the National Education Policy Center out of the University of Colorado and the Williams Institute out of the UCLA.  The report lays out school level actions and public policy initiatives to improve the school environment for LGBT students. For anyone watching at home, the report can be found at

Of the steps outlined in the report, I’d like to highlight the recommendations on staff development.  Beginning on page 12, two key points are particularly relevant for us:

·         Develop and implement professional development for all school personnel (locally determined and agreed upon by faculty and staff), focusing on the challenges facing LGBT youth and seeking to generate collaborative, problem-solving approaches to address those challenges.

·         Structure professional development incrementally, beginning with only a modicum of content but providing opportunities to build on the initial steps.

Reading from the report:

Research has shown that professional development is best seen as a form of collaborative dialogue among educators as well as a vehicle for keeping abreast of new developments in their respective fields. Mandatory, top-down programs, where alleged experts are brought in on a one-time basis to lecture faculty and staff, are substantially less effective than brainstorming regarding new strategies and follow-up meetings to share results.

Such collaboration is inevitably enhanced by the participation of out LGBT educators and other openly LGBT members of the community, perhaps including out students from the older grades. Steps can be incremental in nature; even minor movement forward can matter greatly. Professional development can start off with items as simple and basic as an information sheet or an e-mail, expand to include guest speakers, film clips, and brainstorming regarding possible strategies, and even continue with a dialogue regarding changes in classroom pedagogy and curricular content.

Where there is confusion, there will be inconsistent or ineffective responses.  Where there is lack of communication, there will be hesitancy or avoidance.  An effective, clear staff development program for all of our staff will help clear up the confusion, and give teachers the tools to not only respond to bullying, but create a positive school climate to help prevent bullying in the first place.

I urge you to read the report, listen to your students, and bring us together to make a plan.

I also have a comment to students who are watching.  For all of you who have come forward to alert us to the problems we have in our school climates, thank you.  Your teachers want you to know that we hear you.  To all of our students who are suffering because of bullying or an unsupportive school environment, your teachers want you to know that we will work to make it better.

Members of the school board and all the staff here, if we address these issues openly, collaboratively, and proactively, we will make it better.  Let’s get to work.

Thank you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Q-Comp - Changes to Incentives and Voting Date, Teacher of the Year Nominations, Classroom Grants, Professional Conference, Archived Updates

Q-Comp – Changes to Incentives and Voting Date:  We found out this week that we do not need to hold our vote in November.  Given the number of questions members have, the fact that our plan is not back from the state yet, and just how overloaded people are feeling right now, we are planning to move our vote to mid December. 

Also, our school board has decided based on some new financial information, to use their full levy authority (no popular vote needed for this kind of levy) to increase funding for Q-Comp.  This will change the amounts of the financial incentives in our proposal to the following:  the site improvement goal incentive will go from $85 to $210, the student achievement goal incentive will go from $85 to $210 as well, and the observation incentive will go from $1580 to $1728.

Teacher of the Year:  Nominations are open for Teacher of the Year at . All you need is your and the teacher’s contact information and 75 words about the good work they do.  Nominations are due November 15th.

Classroom Grants:  Our Foundation for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has classroom grants available for Education Minnesota members.  Classroom Grants between $500 and $3,000 are awarded to address particular needs for classroom innovations. Preference is given to projects that address the needs of diverse or at-risk students, involve partnerships and are replicable. Several Anoka Hennepin members have earned these grants over the years.  Applications are due Dec. 11, 2009, for the 2009-10 school year.  Visit for more information.

Education Minnesota Professional Conference:  This coming Thursday and Friday, join over 10,000 of your colleagues at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul.  The workshops encompass more than 70 current education issues, such as bridging the achievement gap, bringing culturally relevant activities into classrooms, sessions that fill re-licensure requirements, and the role of technology in 21st century education. Among the estimated 300 exhibits in the hall, there will be hands-on science demonstrations, live raptors and free little trinkets galore.  In addition, conference attendees can get flu shots, give blood, and donate books for students at tornado-damaged Wadena High School or flood-damaged southeastern Minnesota.  Visit for all the details.

Archived Weekly Updates:  Trying to find something from a past weekly update?  Visit for all of our past updates.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Q-Comp and What We Already Do, Mileage on Staff Development Days, Re-Licensure Courses, Fall Professional Conference

Q-Comp – What We Are Already Doing:  Many of the basic components of Q-Comp are based on things we do as a district right now, and would continue to do regardless of its passage.  As you are evaluating the proposal, here are the main elements you may recognize: 
  • Observations:  We chose to use a pared down version of the observation part of our current performance review structure.  Instead of all of our PAS components, we will focus on the one that relates most directly with instruction or has the most direct impact on student achievement.  The rubrics and forms for those parts would be used for Q-Comp too.
  • Site Achievement Goal: We currently develop annual site goals as part of our Site Improvement Plan process. 
  • Student Achievement Goal:  We have begun to develop individual or collaborative team goals annually; these could be used for our individual student achievement goals as well. 
  • Collaborative Teams:  One of the requirements of Q-Comp is to have some form of job embedded staff development, so we referenced the PLC’s and collaborative teams that our district has been working for the past few years.

Mileage on Staff Development Days:  If you travel during a staff development day from one site to another, you are eligible to be reimbursed for mileage.  You can obtain a form from your site’s office to get your reimbursement.

Teacher License Renewal Seminar:  Metro teachers unions are offering a license renewal seminar to our members on Saturday, November 13th, 8:30 am – 3:30 pm at Highview Middle School in New Brighton.  Four seminars are offered that can fill some of the staff development requirements for re-licensure:  Mental Illness, Positive Behavior Strategies, Reading, and Accommodation & Modification Instructional Strategies.  Email us at if you’d like to sign up.

Fall Professional Conference:  Come to the Professional Conference on October 21st and 22nd  to find opportunities to earn re-licensure credit, increase your professional skills, get a flu shot, give blood, win prizes, and take home trinkets from vendors.  For a full list of sessions and information, visit

Friday, October 1, 2010

Q-Comp and Peer of Choice, 60/40 Day, Loan Forgiveness, Neutrality Policy Meeting

Q-Comp and Peer of Choice Observation:  This week’s proposal focus is on the peer of choice observation.  One of the greatest challenges in any observation system is to match participants with evaluators who understand the participant’s work.  We knew we could provide some degree of fit for most participants, but we wanted to go further than what we could accomplish with only 30 Peer Evaluators.  Our solution was to have the second of our three observations completed by a peer of the participant’s choice.  Most people would choose someone from their site, but participants who are “singletons” (the only person doing what they do at their site) would be likely choosing people from another site.

To be someone’s Peer of Choice, building leadership teams will send in the names of interested people to the program coordinators who will make that available to participants.  Those who are asked to do an observation by a colleague need to attend a training (most likely conducted on a staff development day) and will be compensated $100 for doing the observation, pre, and post meetings.  Your Peer Evaluator will be at the pre and post meeting as well so everyone hears the same information.   People can do up to five Peer of Choice evaluations.

Elementary Staff Development Day:  We are getting questions about whether October 4 is what we’ve called a “60/40” day (part of the day for staff development, part for work time).  October 4 is a regular full day of staff development; we no longer have a 60/40 day.  Last year, as a result of a recommendation from an elementary workload committee, we converted the former 60/40 day into a full work day and moved it to the first week of school.  Elementary staff has not lost any work days, but have actually gained a little time when it may be a bit more useful. 

Loan Forgiveness:  If you're a teacher serving in a low-income or subject-matter shortage area, it might be possible for you to cancel or defer your student loans.  We have several schools and subjects in our district that are on the list, visit to see if you qualify.

Waiting for Superman:  If you are looking for a good article answering the misinformation about public schools and unions in this documentary, visit .

Neutrality Policy:  We received a number of responses to my question two weeks ago about whether we are getting the support we asked for regarding GLBT issues in our district (specifically addressing bullying of gay students and interpreting the implementation of the neutrality policy).  All of the responses indicated that while we have made a start, more needs to be done.  We invite interested AHEM members to meet at the AHEM office next Thursday, October 7 at 4:45 pm to discuss what we can do as a union to make sure all of our students and staff, including GLBT students and staff, feel safe and valued at school.