Good news, the school district and teachers have agreed on a contract extension averting a potential strike. It's not a completely done deal yet as the teachers have yet to vote on it, but it looks like they will support it. There's been a lot written about the opposing views, which in large part come down, not to differences in substance, but in implementation and timing. One can certainly see both sides on this one, with the District concerned about the larger perspective of financing these changes earlier and more comprehensively than had been planned, and the teachers/parents reacting to the realities of the everyday classrooms with populations that are harder and harder to control.

I have a deep respect for all parties - students, parents, teachers, administrators - who are committed to improving our public educational system, and while I am no expert on educational policy and implementation, I do think that the central issue in this last contract negotiation had to do with trust and inclusion. Many of the teachers and parents that I respect for their years of tireless dedication to sustaining the public school community, feel left out of the district decision-making processes.

As school-wide uniformity, a major component of the Strong Communities, Strong Schools Plan, is implemented, groups that used to bring different members of the community together like site councils, and give them an ongoing voice on educational issues, have disappeared. Certainly there is less opportunity to determine site-specific policies so therefor fewer decisions to make, but the community building benefits of those groups were, I believe, critical to the health of the schools and the larger community.

Now, instead of regular opportunities for parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community representatives to build relationships and trust, there is in many cases, simply top down implementation of district policies. In my mind, the efforts of teachers to connect with parents through home visits and listening sessions is less bargaining strategy and more an attempt to recreate those structures that no longer exist but are necessary for the achievement success everyone wants.

What didn't seem to come out in the media coverage are the actual situations caused by the convergence of large class sizes and the new district commitment to keeping kids in the classroom. We all know about the increasing numbers of special needs kids who mainstream, but what we don't often hear is the daily struggle to handle those needs in a classroom with 25-30 students. The goal of keeping these kids in a learning environment is laudable, they don't progress when they spend every day in detention, or worse are suspended and sent home. On the other hand, in-class time-outs might work for one or two students, but if there are more or their behavior is disruptive, you are putting teachers in extremely challenging situations, hourly.

Now, are all classrooms like this? No, of course not. (The transition from 2-year Jr. Highs to 3-year middle schools has made those sites particularly challenging.) But one or two a day per teacher adds up, and if these situations escalate, the future for both students and teachers is problematic. 

The district has a plan and it's the result of solid research and effort. It needs our support. But any large plan needs the flexibility to evolve as stakeholders turn the theoretical into the practical (i.e. the Central Corridor.) My hope is that the immediate outcome of the new contract is a redefined understanding of how every member of the education community needs to be a part of the decision-making process for this plan to be a success. We all need ownership if this problem is going to be solved. Let's continue to find ways to rebuild the relationships and trust that will empower the strong communities needed to develop strong schools.

D12

Raymond Ave Station Launch
The 2nd public meeting to discuss a launch party for the June 14th green Line launch happened tonight at the Dubliner. Planning for the event looks to serve a dual purpose: first, to welcome visitors to our unique neighborhood and second, to show the worth of a central gathering area to the surrounding property owners & developers. The hope is that as development around the Raymond Ave station happens, they will carve out some room for public gathering spaces which would certainly enhance their property values, as well as helping to build community. Click on the D12 heading above to find out more.

Trust for Public Land Initiative
In related news, TPL has been holding a series of informational meetings along the central corridor to encourage developers and building owners to keep and create new public spaces. They are pushing the idea that parks do not necessarily have to be filled with green trees and plants (although that's a great thing) they can simply be open spaces with benches and playgrounds or tables for chess or whatever brings people together. I have attended a couple of these meetings and there is progress on selling the idea that public spaces = increased property values.

Schools

St.AP Elementary Music Open House
Brad Ollman, the much-admired music teacher at our local elementary school, hosted an open house this week for parents to visit his K-5 classes. The school is lucky to have a teacher of his abilities showing our kids how much fun music can be.

St.AP Elementary Wolfridge Fundraising
The 5th graders are getting ready to go on their annual week-long trip to Wolfridge on March 24. They are raising money to help fund the experience by selling Wolfridge calendars. You can pick one up at the school office for $15 - they have some beautiful photos by Paul Sundberg of the north shore area.

Murray E-2 Program
Speaking of Wolfridge, the Murray Environmental class recently returned from a weekend up there as part of their scientific environmental studies. They also make monthly trips to Como Park to monitor winter conditions. This is teacher Tim Chase's second group of students, members of the first group who went on to Como High, mentor the Murray class at the Como Park outings. It is a very cool program.

Class of '63 Web Support
In conjunction with a group of Murray alums, the Foundation is developing web pages for each of our schools to make on-line donations easier. The idea is for each site to feature a list of school funding priorities so donors can link their passions to programs that matter. Look for those sites to be up and running in the next couple months if not sooner.

Como Boys Hockey
The Como Boys Hockey team I mentioned last week, was featured in a nice article in the Midway Monitor. It talks about the team's on ice success as well as their academic achievement.

listserv

Food Deliveries and Dog Walking Needed
Catherine Tondra of the St. Anthony Park Area Seniors (SAPAS) is still looking for volunteers willing to help deliver hot meals to area seniors or walk their pets. Contact her for more info on how you can help our neighbors age in place.

Barely Brothers Records
There's a new retail store coming to Raymond Ave next to Bargain Upholstery. It's called Barely Brothers Records and it will sell vintage and new vinyl records, as well as hosting music from time to time. Check out the Line article for more details and stop by to welcome them to the neighborhood. Co-owners Spencer Brook and Mike Elias have had a lifelong love of vinyl, with Elias' bona fides coming from spending the past 13 years working at the Electric Fetus. Their grand opening is March 22. They'll carry over 8,000 LP's and 20,000 45's. Wow!

St.APnotes

Rock Star Supply Co to Become "Oceanographic Institute"
Those of you who are familiar with 826 National, the tutoring initiative inspired by author Dave Eggars' (after-school tutoring in cooly branded storefronts) will understand immediately that the Oceanographic Institute title is meant to be fun and not taken too literally. There will be oceanographic items in the shop at University & Raymond, but the main goal is to create a space that makes kids feel good about the tutoring they need to succeed. Check out their branding progress and volunteer to tutor by contacting the shop. You can also read more about the whole thing in this article in the Line.

Peapods Classes
Peapods natural Toys & Baby Care Shop on Como Ave has redesigned their store to make room for a community room in back where you can take classes on preschool art, parenting and yoga. Visit their website for all the class info.

Dubliner Music
Tomorrow night, Feb. 27, from 5-7pm, neighbor Nick Jordan and musical partner, Mary DuShane will be playing at the Dubliner's "Acoustic Happy Hour." Good music, good people, good location...good way to warm up on a cold night.

That's all for now. Take care of yourself and be a good neighbor - by continuing to shovel your walks!