Tag Archives: Chaska High School

Breaking points: Jim Bach and ROAR

To say it was a challenging year in our Eastern Carver County School District would be a major understatement. A spate of racial incidents – most at Chaska High School — has alienated many minority students and their parents and left them feeling unsafe. For the past six months — since December — those parents and their allies have been appearing at school board meetings to demand action.

After months of promises that weren’t followed up with action at both the school and district level, these community members organized themselves into a group called ROAR (Residents Organized Against Racism). In April, ROAR introduced an eight-point petition calling for specific steps to reform how our school district and its schools handle equity issues.

One of those eight points, a call to “change the leadership of Chaska High School” has become a flashpoint. A counter-petition on change,org was started and a contentious debate has begun on social media. This issue merits additional conversation in full context. That’s my purpose here: to discuss why some parents and community members have reached a breaking point with the current leadership of Chaska High School.

The school’s response has been problematic, here are some examples:

In September, three Chaska High School students attended the football game versus Chanhassen wearing blackface (one of these students also wore an Afro wig). Despite the presence of school- and district-level employees at the game, no action was taken in the moment to prevent the display of this harmful racial stereotype. Even after a second blackface incident in February — both being called “teachable moments” by Principal Jim Bach in media reports — there has yet to be a schoolwide discussion of the history and meaning of blackface.

In February, black students at Chaska High School approached school leadership about doing a series of posters celebrating Black History Month, because it is otherwise not memorialized at the school. Principal Bach rejected some of the poster themes, suggesting that they required additional context and dialogue. For a district that prides itself on “personalized learning”, this was a failure to give the necessary support to a self-initiated activity designed to help educate others — one that would have been especially valuable given that by that point in the school year, Chaska High had already suffered the two blackface incidents and a highly-publicized racial incident at Chaska Middle School East. A few weeks later, an overflow crowd filled the Chaska Event Center — which had been rented out by the parents of the black students who created the posters — to view the exhibit in its entirety. While many teachers and staff members were there, no members of the school- or district-level leadership teams attended this event.

In April, two white Chaska High School students were responsible for the creation and distribution of a fake Google Map that featured the faces of about 25 black students on a location labeled “Negro Hill”. The pictured students were subsequently called down to the office via the loudspeaker, where they were required to listen to a forced apology from the students responsible for the image — thereby further disrupting the students’ learning and not affording them the agency to decide whether they wanted to participate in such a “restorative justice” session. A few days later, one of the pictured students who did a media interview about the incident was subject to retaliation, where an obviously photoshopped social media post was reported as a threat by a parent of one of the students who distributed the “Negro Hill” image. Despite recognizing the threat report as not being valid, members of the Chaska High leadership team reported it to the police anyway, resulting in the student losing an entire day of learning and being needlessly subjected to the stress of being questioned by police investigators.

These are just three examples of how the school’s responses to these incidents – not the incidents themselves – have been less than optimal. Members of ROAR have identified several more such school-level responses that they feel have been similarly handled inappropriately.

Unintended harm is still harm

Much of the discussion surrounding these events by community members has focused on the unintentional nature of them. It is frequently referred to on social media that the boys dressed in blackface at the football game “just went too far” and “there were no racial intentions whatsoever” and “calling it a racial incident implies that it was done with intent”.

We need to dispel those mistaken notions.

When you dress in blackface (and, in one case, wear an Afro wig as well), you are engaging in racist behavior. Whether your intent was malicious or not doesn’t lessen the pain that the perpetuation of that harmful stereotype inflicts.

Similarly, decisions made by the Chaska High School leadership team may not have been made with malicious intent, but still caused harm. The failure to remove the three students dressed in blackface at the football game is to me the clearest example of this, but not the only one. Choosing to deny certain Black History Month poster topics may seem defensible to some people when viewed in isolation, but when placed in a larger context (such as the other racial incidents earlier in the year and leadership’s past support for other potentially divisive student-led initiatives like the pro-gun control protests after the Parkland shootings) one can understand why many would feel that this decision was not a wise and consistent application of a principal’s broad discretion to limit speech within a school setting.

Accountability must be modeled

A lot of the focus following these incidents from school leaders has been directed at making sure students have clear expectations for their behavior and an understanding of what the consequences will be going forward. That’s all well and good, but it only addresses part of the problem at this point.

As detailed above, the decisions made by Chaska High School leadership have opened up a trust gap between it and a significant portion of the students and parents in our community. Moving forward requires the administration to model the behavior it claims to expect of its students.

These issues are difficult, and we all should have the grace and space to make well-intentioned mistakes. But this requires more than the bland “we can always do better” sort of responses that the Chaska High School leadership team have offered so far.

At a minimum, this means a forthright accounting of where the Chaska High School leadership team has missed the mark in its handling of these incidents, an acknowledgement of the pain those actions have caused, an action plan for addressing those gaps next school year and beyond and clear evidence that the plan is being deployed. For a district and a school that has promised proactive communication and transparency on equity issues, this would be one useful step on a long road to where we need to be as a community.

Regardless of who is the principal at Chaska High School, real reform is required

As we finish the school year, the district administration and school board is facing hard decisions about how to move the district through the controversies that have marked the last few months. 

At a personal level, I struggle with the call to replace the Chaska High School leadership. Like many white people in the community, I too have had several good interactions with Jim Bach. I served on the district’s E-8 Facilities Task Force from 2012-2014, when he was still principal at Chaska Middle School East. I found Bach to be open, inclusive, and a strong strategic thinker over my time on the task force. At the time, I was excited that my kids were slated to go to CMSE (and still felt that way when Bach took the job at Chaska High).

But I can’t stop fielding questions from friends, relatives, and work colleagues who see our schools splashed on the news all too frequently for racial incidents.

And I also can’t unhear what other parents and students have told me about their experiences this year – experiences that don’t correspond with what I thought I knew.

In April, I sat at a meeting organized by the school district to discuss equity issues where minutes after district leadership promised transparency on equity issues, two black girls sitting at my table passed around their phones showing us the “Negro Hill” image which had been circulating for days but had not yet been communicated by the district. I was appalled and angry and embarrassed. But what really broke my heart was the reaction of the girls, who — while upset — seemed sadly resigned to this sort of thing as a regular part of life in our schools. They didn’t trust that the leaders at the school would stand up for them because they had been let down before. No one should have to feel that way at Chaska High School or anywhere else.

In recent months, I’ve heard variations of that story from many other parents and students. Some parents have pulled their children out of our district because they fear for them. Others are worn down from fighting this battle for years. And some worry about retaliation if they tell their stories publicly. If you haven’t talked to someone who has had one of these experiences, you should. Watching the April school board meeting is a good start. Once you’ve heard these stories, you can no longer deny the seriousness of this issue.

If no one in the school or in the district office is going to have the back of those two girls who sat at my table, all their black and brown classmates and their families, then it’s up to us — all of us — in the community to do so. For these reasons, I’ve joined with these parents and community members in ROAR to help lift the voices of those who have been ignored for too long and to call for real reform in how our district operates.

The other points on the ROAR petition (measurable accountability, restructured equity leadership & advisory groups, anti-racism policy & protocols, trauma-focused & victim-centered protocols, updated curriculum, more diverse faculty & staff, and monthly updates from the district) have received broad support – even from many of those who have signed the change.org petition. I’m glad they are supportive of measures to improve the equity in our schools, and wish they had been there since December (or even since April), too. The district’s response to the ROAR petition shows that they now understand that these steps are necessary.

No, the school district and Chaska High School leadership are not solely responsible for these incidents happening. (Although, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the early incidents had been handled more effectively.) But it’s not acceptable for minority students to suffer additional damage every time because the staff at our schools don’t know how to respond to these incidents properly. These students should not be further victimized by leaders who are behind on the learning curve.

We must demand better for the sake of the entire community. The trust gap must be closed. It is up to the district to take any and all necessary steps — including personnel changes, if needed — to ensure that the leadership team at Chaska High School is properly equipped to handle such incidents and that they will no longer engage in behaviors that make the problems worse instead of making students feel safe and welcomed.

And it’s up to us — all of us — to hold the district accountable for doing so.

[ROAR logo from the group’s public Facebook page. Edits for clarity on 6/7, 6/9, and 6/12]

A balancing act for District 112?

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) has put its E-8 and high school facility task forces on hold until fall, as the two groups wait for a refresh on demographic projections for the next decade.  A faster than expected recovery in residential construction as well as the Legislature’s recent approval of all-day kindergarten for all students may spark discussions of new facilities earlier than anticipated.

While specific decisions on boundaries and possible new school construction will now wait until 2014, the issues the task forces were wrestling with remain.  On the elementary school level, a permanent home needs to be found for La Academia (the District’s rapidly growing Spanish immersion program) and the Family Learning Center, overcrowding in the three western schools (Victoria, Clover Ridge, and East Union) has to be addressed, and a likely shortage in kindergarten rooms resulting from the Legislature’s approval of all-day kindergarten must be resolved.  At this level, the issues boil down to a numbers game — finding a way to make sure that there is sufficient building capacity to meet enrollment and then drawing boundaries in a way that make the most sense for the District as a whole.

On the high school level, the issue is more difficult and more philosophical.  There’s enough capacity in both high schools to last the District for the next decade.  Chanhassen High School has (and is projected to continue to have) higher enrollment than Chaska High School by 200-300 students and Chaska High’s population is significantly more diverse (on a percentage basis, there are nearly three times as many non-white students and students receiving free or reduced lunches compared to Chanhassen High).

Although the Chanhassen facility is newer, the two schools now essentially provide the same amenities, with the exception of a “black box” theater, after the District has invested nearly $3 million in renovations to Chaska High since 2011.

The feeder system for the two high schools is based strictly on city lines — something that was strongly promoted by city leaders in both Chanhassen and Chaska and is easy to explain and understand.  Could this change?  Well, it’s possible.  The unbalanced enrollment and demographics between the two high schools is an issue which some feel should be addressed.  Does drawing boundary lines based on city limits do the best service to all of the children served by the District?

How could things change?  Well, some have suggested moving away from city boundaries for the high schools and moving to an elementary-school based feeder program (3 or 4 elementary schools could be designated to feed into each high school).  Other thoughts on balancing include using different geographical boundaries to split the District among the two high schools.  But there’s also plenty of folks who would favor keeping things just as they are today.

What do you think?  Take the polls below, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Hawks and Storm jump to newly formed Metro West Conference

District 112’s athletic and activities programs will jump to the newly formed Metro West Conference, which will begin play in the fall of 2014.  Chanhassen and Chaska High School will join Bloomington Kennedy, Bloomington Jefferson, Robbinsdale Cooper, St. Louis Park, and Richfield in the new conference.

The new conference will provide the Hawks and Storm with opponents closer geographically, similar in enrollment, and many of them (like the Bloomington schools and Robbinsdale Cooper) are multi-high school districts.

Chaska and Chanhassen both leave the Missota Conference, which will also lose Shakopee and Farmington at that time as well (both of those schools are moving to South Suburban, effectively taking the place of Bloomington schools).  The Missota will be down to four schools at that time, and if it fails to add more schools it will be broken up by the Minnesota State High School League.

Creation of the new conference has been rumored for quite some time, as District 112 ran into significant opposition from schools in the Missota over issues like the combined girls hockey program.

You can read the full press release on the District 112 website.

Chaska High School on lockdown after threat [UPDATED]

A threat received this morning has prompted Chaska High School to go into lockdown.  Students and staff that were in the building are being kept there.  Buses were diverted to Pioneer Ridge Middle School, which has also been placed on lockdown as a precaution.  CHS students and staff not at school are being encouraged to stay at home until the all-clear is given.  No injuries or unusual activity have been reported.  All students at CHS and PRMS are safe.

For continuing updates, follow these links:

Chaska High School website

Chaska High School Twitter feed

Pioneer Ridge Middle School website

[UPDATE, 10 a.m.]:  All Eastern Carver County schools are in external lockdown, meaning all doors are locked and no visitors are being allowed.

[UPDATE, 10:15 a.m.]:  Per the District’s Facebook page, external lockdown will be lifted for other Eastern Carver County district schools at noon.

[UPDATE, 10:30 a.m.]:  Several CHS parents have reported receiving e-mails indicating that the school will be closed for the day, and students inside the school will be released around 10:45.

[UPDATE, 10:45 a.m.]:  All after-school activities will go on as scheduled.  The Family Learning Center is closed for the day.

[UPDATE, 1:15 p.m.]:  The District’s webpage indicates that the Chaska police has cleared the building and it is free of threats.

Chaska-Chanhassen HS math test score gap narrows again

Standardized test results from the 2011-12 school year were released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Education.  We’ll have several posts to break down the results, but let’s start by looking at the high school level.  The gap in math performance between the two high schools has been a major concern since the first test results were released in 2010 and showed a 27-point gap between the two schools that was largely driven by Chaska High School’s disappointing 43.6% result.

The 2011 results showed substantial progress, as the gap narrowed to 17 points, and the 2012 results show yet another strong gain, as the gap has now shrunk to about six and one-half points.

Source: Minnesota Department of Education

The 20 point narrowing of the gap over the last two years can be explained by a 15-point improvement in math performance at Chaska High School and a five-point decline in performance at Chanhassen High School over that time.  What is particularly notable is how the 2012 results show that Chaska High was able to pull away from its state average level performance, improving by 10 points in an environment when the state average declined by six points.

From a reading perspective, both schools continued to show performances above state averages.  Chaska High’s reading performance dropped back to historical levels after peaking at 91% last year.  In fact, the nine-point gap in reading in 2012 is larger than the gap in math.

Source: Minnesota Department of Education

Chaska Area News and Notes: April 23, 2012

Assorted news and observations from the last few days:

  • I finally got down to Patron Mexican Restaurant over the weekend, and I highly recommend it!  Good food and fairly priced.  Service was a touch slow, but I was willing to live with it because it was nice to see a downtown Chaska restaurant that was busy.  Check out their Facebook page for more information.
  • Chaska Middle School West math teacher Michelle Schnaare was named District 112’s Teacher of the Year on Saturday night.  Schnaare receives a $3,000 grant to use on a classroom project of her design.  Congratulations to her and the other finalists:  Chris Commers (Chaska High School, Social Studies), Sara Falkofske (Chanhassen High School, Science), Marie Foster (Chaska Elementary, 4th grade) and Angie Kissock (Chanhassen High,  Physical Fitness).
  • I attended the first annual Pride of Chaska BBQ Bash on Friday night benefiting Chaska High School.  A great event that raised about $50,000 towards building a competition-caliber softball field at the school as well as acquiring a marimba for the music program.
  • After a series of neighborhood meetings, the plan for Griep Park is being finalized and will be reviewed by the Chaska Park Board at next month’s meeting, which will be on Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Chaska Community Center.
  • Supporters of Ron Paul for President have been very successful in getting their delegates through to the upper levels of the Republican caucus process.  Over the weekend, it was reported that Paul supporters earned 20 of the 24 Congressional District delegate spots, despite finishing a distant second to Rick Santorum in the non-binding vote at the precinct caucuses in February.  This is not going over well in some quarters of the party.

Stable enrollment projections for District 112

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) released the results of its demographic study this week.  The results show projections of essentially flat enrollment over the next decade.  Current K-12 enrollment is 8,976 students — projections of enrollment in a decade range from 8,925 to 9,123 students.  Even at the high-end of the projection, that’s only an increase of 15 students per year.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the District doesn’t face some challenges going forward.  While the enrollment projections signal no new school construction is imminent, there may need to be yet another look at resetting boundaries at all levels.  Let’s look at some pieces of the data that indicate that may be required.

Three of the district’s elementary schools are currently over capacity:  Clover Ridge, Victoria, and East Union.  The projections show no relief in sight for those schools, and continuing enrollment declines for Chanhassen Elementary and Chaska Elementary.

Data source: Eastern Carver County School District

Keeping Clover Ridge, Victoria, and East Union at 10-20% over capacity isn’t sustainable long-term, especially given the capacity available in other facilities within the district.  The good news is that after several boundary changes in recent years, this change would likely be able to be in place for a long time.

At the high school level, current enrollment of 2,805 students is expected to rise to between 3,000 and 3,100 students over the next decade.  That means that the district’s two high schools (each with capacity of 2,000) will be more than sufficient for that time frame.

The issue at the high school level remains the relative imbalance between the two high schools.  56% of high school students in the district now attend Chanhassen High School, and that ratio seems likely to stay about the same for the next five years and probably through the next decade, which would mean Chanhassen would consistently be 200-300 students larger.   There will need to be a district-wide discussion on whether any adjustments need to be made to bring the schools into closer balance.

Rebutting arguments made against the technology referendum

This week’s Chaska Herald featured some letters and commentary against the Eastern Carver County Schools Technology Referendum.  Let me rebut some arguments and set some facts straight.

There was a letter to the editor by John Brunette that indicated that District 112 had higher per-pupil expenditures than most other neighboring districts.  Brunette’s data is incorrect.  Per the Minnesota Department of Education, District 112 is one of the lowest spending school districts of its type.  Check out the graph below, which shows the actual per pupil funding for the last three years, plus the projected funding for next year if the referendum passes, for like school districts (suburban school districts with +/- 1,500 students).

More importantly, I’d like to address the argument made by Kristi Jackson about voting “no” to enact change.  Jackson argues that she can’t support the referendum because of the inequities between Chanhassen High School and Chaska High School.  Let’s talk about those inequities and why voting “no” would be precisely the wrong response.

Certainly, as Jackson suggests, Chanhassen High has newer facilities and more advanced technology.  That comes with the Chanhassen High being in its third year of operation, while the current Chaska High School building is now 15 years old.

And, yes, enrollment between the two schools has become somewhat unbalanced.  Why is that?  Two primary reasons — first, the boundaries were drawn before the collapse of the housing market.  Had the housing market stayed afloat, Chaska Township would be undergoing significant residential construction.  The second factor is that parents are taking advantage of open enrollment to have their children go a short distance down the road to a newer facility.

Yes, math scores are unbalanced between the two high schools as well, as has been previously discussed here.  Those variances can be explained largely by the demographic differences between the schools.

Jackson advocates that the District abandon the community-based boundary system currently in place.  While this is a topic that many will have strong feelings about, I tend to agree with the District’s position that we need to give it a couple of more years to shake out.  Constant transition of school boundaries isn’t good for the District, either, and we need to be very solid on the rationale for doing so before we undertake such changes.  (Living here since 2003, we’ve been assigned to three different elementary schools over that period of time.  I’m glad that my daughters were young enough to avoid having to make those transitions.)

As a parent of children who will attend Chaska High School when they get older, I certainly understand Jackson’s concerns.  But voting “no” is exactly the wrong thing to do.  Voting “no” is only going to make it harder for the District to address the technology, facilities, and performance gap between Chanhassen High School and Chaska High School.

Currently, all the schools in the District are fighting over small amounts of capital improvement dollars.  Allowing technology funding to be supported by this levy will increase the pool of money available to upgrade all aspects of the Chaska High facility.  The district has just posted a school-by-school list of projects in the first two years of technology referendum funding, and Chaska High School is the largest recipient of that funding.

Much of the technology funding will also go to programs specifically designed to address STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subject areas.  These programs will only help Chaska High students perform at a higher level over the coming years.

Finally, we need to remember that changing the boundary lines to equalize the demographic makeup of the two schools doesn’t fundamentally do anything to solve the problem — it just moves it around.  While it may look better (and may make some people feel better) to have two schools at 60% proficiency instead of one school at 50% and one school at 70%, we’ve still got 40% of students who aren’t passing the test.  Regardless of where these students are going to school, the District has to find a way to reach them.

It’s understandable that parents are frustrated about some things.  I certainly haven’t agreed with every decision that has been made over the years.  But voting “no” to send a message isn’t going to help students.  There are ways to send a message to the School Board and administration without harming the very goals you are trying to pursue.

Vote “yes”, and give the District the resources it needs to address these issues and then let’s hold them accountable for achieving results.

Math gap between Chaska and Chanhassen high schools narrows

Much was made of the 2010 MCA II math test results for 11th graders, the first such standardized testing for the Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) since the opening of Chanhassen High School.  The test results showed an alarming 27-point gap between the two schools that caused significant community reaction and action by the district to improve math performance at Chaska High School.

Earlier this week, the results of the 2011 tests were released, and the gap between the two schools has narrowed to about 17 points.  The narrowing of the gap represents a good news, bad news situation.  On the plus side, performance at Chaska High was up six points over 2010.  But, performance at Chanhassen High dropped four points from last year.  Chanhassen continues to run well ahead of the state averages, while Chaska remains just slightly above average statewide performance.

Reading results for 2011 were also released this week.  Grades 3-8 and 10 were tested last year, and District 112 was consistently about 10 points ahead of the state average and was solidly in line with neighboring districts.


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