As a parent, I have struggled with the district’s rollout of standards-based grading and Empower. I wondered if I was alone, so I talked to some other parents, and discovered I wasn’t. Together, we started a group called Even Better Eastern Carver County Schools, devoted to making out schools, well, even better than they are today. Last spring, we did a survey that discovered that large numbers of parents (nearly half, in fact) were also struggling with Empower and standards-based grading.
Also last spring, students at Chanhassen and Chaska high schools organized to complain about their concerns with the rollout of personalized learning and Empower.
Finally, the district’s own community survey last year found that questions related to standards-based grading and Empower were (by far) the lowest scoring questions.
Three points of feedback from three different sources. All pointing in the same direction: there’s something wrong with how the district is rolling out standards-based grading and Empower. What has the response been?
Sadly, it’s been incremental changes only. Yes, there is some new functionality in Empower that is helpful. No, it’s still not “good”. Not even close.
Also sadly, the current school board does not appear to be sufficiently engaged in solving this problem. The system is blinking red, but no one is taking action. I’ve watched the meetings, and the only significant discussion on these issues took place in July, far too late to respond to what happened last year and make the sort of changes required for this year.
We need to step back, take a fresh look at the rollout approach and be prepared to fundamentally change directions. To do so, the School Board and district leadership are going to have to break out of their dependence on self-selected task forces and seek broader input from the community. None of the incumbent school board members have expressed a willingness to do what is needed to bring this process back to where it needs to be.
Fortunately, we have three qualified challengers who can bring a fresh set of eyes and new perspectives to our School Board.
Jenny Stone is a former District 112 teacher who left in part because of the district’s approach on some of these issues. Her performance at the League of Women Voters forum demonstrated a complete understanding of the sort of issues the Board will face over the next four years.
Delane Wetterlin is a former district employee who worked for years in our schools and understands what’s going on both in the classroom and behind-the-scenes. She is concerned about how we are measuring progress under standards-based grading, and vows to make improvements.
Cecilia Laube is the head of the district’s Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) and as a Chilean immigrant, she would provide a voice for diverse populations that is missing on the Board today.
All three of these candidates have prioritized improving school district communication as well, which is another area of serious concern.
And what about the fourth spot on the ballot? If you’re picking among the incumbents, I would urge a vote for either Fred Berg or Tim Klein. Berg is a retired teacher who could stand to regain some of the skeptical nature he showed before joining the Board eight years ago. Klein has shown a keen analytical eye, particularly on fiscal matters, that he should apply more critically to the issues discussed above.