Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Freshman class marks North High's new beginning - Minnesota Public Radio

by Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio

September 19, 2012

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MINNEAPOLIS â€" Two years ago, North High School nearly shut down. Community groups rallied to save the school. Now it's starting over with smaller classes and a focus on getting students ready for college. But recruiting students to the new school remains a challenge.

The arrival of this fall's freshman class marks the beginning of a transformation for this Minneapolis high school.

Small classes are the norm for freshman at the new North High School. In this algebra class, for instance, there are 17 students here, and two teachers.

"We try to make sure the kids stay on track, that they turn in all their assignments, that they don't fall too behind," says one of those teachers, Warsame Warsame.

For students accustomed to classrooms twice as full, the smaller classes come as a relief.

In middle school it was common for nearly 40 students to share just one teacher, said Mahommed Moses, 14.

"If there's a whole bunch in a class you're not going to get as much individual work with the teacher. But (here) you do, because there's only like 10 or 12 kids in one class," Moses said.

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One reason the class sizes are so small is because the school is still working to enroll more students. But school officials say even if they hit their goals, they'll remain committed to smaller than normal class sizes of 20 to 25 students.

There's also a commitment to provide more advising and counseling for students, a focus on preparing students for college and an expectation that parents and guardians will be more engaged. District officials hope these changes translate into improved overall test scores within two years.

With this new mission comes a new name: North Community High School Academy of Arts and Communications.

Right now, the school is made up of only freshmen. As students make their way up through the grades, the old North High School, now called North High Senior Academy, will be phased out.

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The new North High is nothing short of a complete reboot.

"I think students are quickly realizing that this is something new and this is something different and they're starting to really appreciate what they have here," said Shawn Harris-Berry, who serves as principal of the new North High School.

Two years ago the school faced falling enrollment, a graduation rate of less than 50 percent and test scores that were near the bottom in state rankings.

That's when Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent Bernadia Johnson announced plans to close North High School.

Community groups opposed the move, rallied to save the school, and Johnson changed her mind.

The district began working with the Institute for Student Achievement, a national group that manages the turnaround of failing schools.

"It's going to take time to win over students and parents who were scared away when the district threatened to close the school down just two years ago."

- Brett Buckner, community member

With its new emphasis on teacher and student interaction, one might think students and parents would be eager to enroll. But so far the school has enrolled only 61 freshmen, far short of its goal of 100, and far fewer than nearby Patrick Henry High School with a freshman class of 260.

"It's going to take time to win over students and parents who were scared away when the district threatened to close the school down just two years ago," said Brett Buckner, a community member who fought to keep the school open.

"That's a Herculean task," Buckner said. "To really start to change peoples' mindset. To say, 'Hey look. This whole thing is going in the right direction. Now all we need is you.' "

District officials expect to continue to enroll freshman as the school year progresses.

Mark Bonine, an associate superintendent with the Minneapolis Public Schools district, hopes current students will spread the word about the school and help bring in more students next year.

"I think the first year is a really big year. Then I think naturally once they've been through a year, they're talking to their brothers and sisters and community members, it makes recruiting that much easier," Bonine said.

Because fewer students enrolled than expected, per-pupil costs are about 40 percent higher than at comparable schools. District officials say they hope 500 students are enrolled in grades 9 through 12 within four years. If they can hit that goal, it will cost about as much to teach a student at the new North as it does at other Minneapolis schools.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Comparing Minnesota's and Chicago's proposed teacher evaluation systems - Minnesota Public Radio

by Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio

9:50 AM, September 18, 2012

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One major issue remaining to be solved in the ongoing Chicago teachers' strike is how the district will evaluate teachers - and how test scores and other measures of achievements will be used within those evaluations.

In Minnesota, every district in the state is preparing to have a similar system in place; state law requires the systems to be in place by the 2014-15 school year. In Minnesota, the requirements will include basing 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation on test scores or other measures of student achievement in the classroom.

In Chicago, the proposal has been at 45 percent, but the actual percentages aren't the issue.

It's how the test scores and other measurements are actually plugged into the formula that is creating the impasse in Chicago. Some union members in Chicago praised the school district's move on what percentage of test scores will be factored into teacher evaluations, down from the 45 percent proposed to the 30 percent set as the minimum by state law. It also includes an appeals process to contest evaluations. The new evaluations would be phased in over the length of the contract.

Union leaders in Minnesota say this state is creating a much fairer system that doesn't focus on punishing the teacher. The system focuses on creating something that teachers can actually use to become better teachers.

Tom Dooher, president of the state teachers' union Education Minnesota, said the model being developed in Minnesota won't necessarily just use test scores.

"We know an evaluation is more than a test score," he said. "Why you're seeing less consternation in Minnesota is because it's a more holistic approach."

There's a group of teachers and other officials who are working on a framework for that system that they'll submit to the state by year's end. That framework will be the default model that districts will have to use if they don't come up with a system on their own.

Mary Cathryn Ricker, the president of the St. Paul teachers' union, is one of the co-chairs of that task force. She said she appreciates that teachers are very involved in the development now for what will be in place later. She also considers the Chicago proposal more of a 'gotcha' model, whereas she feels Minnesota seems to be working towards making it a system that teachers can actually use.

"Traditionally, you will have folks developing an evaluation model in one room and folks developing a year's worth of professional development in another room - and there hasn't been an overt connection to either one," she said. "Now what you'll see in Minnesota is that the result of your teacher evaluation should drive your professional development decisions, as opposed to those decisions being made independent of each other."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Group against marriage amendment airs first ad - Minnesota Public Radio

by Patrick Condon, Associated Press

September 18, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) â€" A campaign to defeat a constitutional same-sex marriage ban on November's ballot released its first TV commercial Tuesday, featuring a GOP-supporting, Catholic married couple whose friendship with their lesbian neighbors convinced them to vote against the amendment.

The ad from Minnesotans United for All Families, a coalition of gay rights groups, was posted online early Tuesday and would make a TV debut later in the day in the Twin Cities and Duluth. Spokeswoman Kate Brickman said the ad, which would eventually be broadcast statewide, was the first salvo in a multimillion dollar campaign to air the "vote no" ad continually until the election.

"We decided that once we go up, we want to stay up," Brickman said.

The principal campaign in support of the amendment, Minnesota for Marriage, will start broadcasting its TV ads Oct. 1.

The Minnesotans United for All Families ad features John and Kim Canny of Savage, a Minneapolis suburb. It identifies them as Catholics and Republicans, who have been married for 13 years and who have three children.

"Marriage is really important to me. I didn't really think a lot about same sex marriage," John Carny says. Kim Carny says a lesbian couple who live in their neighborhood with their adopted son "taught all of us in our little suburban world."

The amendment, if passed, would harden an existing same-sex marriage ban under state law by adding it to the constitution. If it is defeated, same-sex marriage would still be illegal under state law.

Also on Tuesday, about 40 leaders from various Christian denominations joined a Minnesota for Marriage press conference on the steps of the State Capitol.

St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt was among those to speak. The state's top Catholic leader says those who want to exclude gay couples from legal marriage do not intend to be hurtful or discriminatory but rather want to affirm marriage's traditional definition.

'Stay Then Go' maker chooses Minnesota for a most unlikely reason: its autism ... - Pioneer Press

Over the years, movies have been shot in the Twin Cities because filmmakers wanted snow, reliable crews or tax rebates, but "Stay Then Go" is probably the first movie to be set here because Minnesota has good care for people with autism.

"It's not by any means great, but it's decent, especially compared to the rest of the country and in terms of making it possible for people with autism to stay with their families, rather than, for instance, a group home," said Minneapolis-based Shelli Ainsworth, the writer and director of "Stay Then Go," which completed filming Saturday at the corner of East 38th Street and Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis.

"Stay Then Go" is about a woman (Janel Moloney of TV's "The West Wing") whose son

Shelli Ainsworth, foreground, the writer and director of "Stay Then Go," works with the movie's crew during filming Saturday in Minneapolis. (Courtesy of "Stay Then Go")

(newcomer Matt Kane) is an artist with autism. Not coincidentally, Ainsworth's son, Dietrich Sieling, is autistic and an artist whose work will appear in a gallery scene that was shot on the last day of filming. Although real people inspired it, "Stay Then Go" is fictional.

Locations for the film included St. Paul's Lowertown, which area location scouts have long trumpeted as a movie set waiting to happen, and the Perpich Center for Arts Education, which Sieling attended. Ainsworth said the "amazing" Perpich Center was one of the reasons she wanted to shoot in Minnesota.

"I live here and work here and have been an artist here for a long time, and I feel like the story is about a person who lives in a city like this one," Ainsworth said.

"But the city is not the story of the movie. The story is the people, and it made sense to shoot someplace that wouldn't distract from that."

Budgeted at less than $1 million and shot in just 15 days, "Stay Then Go" was hard work to shoot, said co-producer Geoff Sass.

"It has a dog and children and 17 locations," Sass said. "For a movie with this budget, it's an ambitious project."

Christine Kunewa Walker, who helped bring "Thin Ice" and "Factotum" to the Twin Cities, is also a producer on the film.

It's hoped that in six or eight months from now, "Stay Then Go" will be ready to hit the film festival circuit. Sass said next September's Toronto International Film Festival might be good timing.

"Ideally, we'll be in festivals next spring or fall and maybe get a release in theaters by the end of next year," Sass said.

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552. Follow him on

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ananya Chatterjea links dance, social awareness - Minnesota Public Radio

by Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio

September 17, 2012

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MINNEAPOLIS â€" Today we're launching a new series on Minnesota Public Radio News called "Art Heroes," stories about some of Minnesota's finest artists who are also exceptional community leaders. These are not just artists who do a charitable project on the side, but have made it their passion and life's work. Their art actively seeks to address social ills, transform their communities and the world.

Ananya Chatterjea is the founder and artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre; her dance company uses its performances to raise awareness around issues such as environmental racism, violence against women, and the ravages of unrestrained capitalism. Chatterjea said that she was first inspired as a young dancer studying Orissi, the classical dance form, in her native home of Bengal, India. She says the beauty and harmony she felt in the studio was a stark contrast to the world outside.

"I would catch the bus at the bus stop and there were many active women's groups then, they would be demonstrating against dowry debts, or there would be some kind of political theater on the streets, at the bus stops, barricading the road," she said. "People would lie down in the streets, not letting cars get through because they had to get their message across. And I kept thinking, 'How can these worlds that were colliding with horrible noise inside of me â€" there was a cacophony â€" I just didn't know how to get them to resolve.' "

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At the time, the seeds of contemporary dance were just beginning to be planted in India. Chatterjea came to the United States to study, and eventually landed in the Twin Cities teaching at the University of Minnesota, where's she's currently chair of the dance department. It was here that she formed Ananya Dance Theatre.

"Honestly it started because I sat at the airport with my 2 1/2 year-old kid and I didn't see a single face looking like me. It felt very white, and I felt I couldn't connect," she said. Eventually she put out a call for women of color interested in moving their bodies and changing the world, no experience necessary. She knew if she could find the people, she could train them to dance.

Hui Wilcox was one of the people who answered the call, and she's been with the company ever since. While she'd had some experience with traditional Chinese dance, she didn't consider herself a dancer at the time. Sitting in the lobby of the Southern Theater on break from a rehearsal, Wilcox says Ananya Dance Theatre has become a core part of her life.

"It's a healing space, spiritually," she said. "There's a very strong sense of community â€" this is where I get my community. This is my church, kind of. It's a weekly, sometimes daily, ritual."

As a member of the company, Wilcox is not just required to learn the movement in a dance piece, she also helps create it. Every dancer does research into that concert's given subject, watches documentaries, collaborates with community activists, and write creative responses to what they've learned, all to help them embody the emotions of the story on stage. This year's performance, called "Moreechika: Season of Mirage," deals with impact of oil drilling, both on communities and on the environment.

One of the dances in Moreechika is inspired by the explosions of gas pipelines in Nigeria, another by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its effect on wildlife. A third dance examines how the pursuit of beauty leads women around the world to contaminate their bodies with toxins found in cosmetics made with petroleum products. The Bhopal disaster is referenced in the work, along with the familiar human costs and crime associated with the new oil boom in the Dakotas.

For Wilcox, it's a story she knows all too well.

"I grew up in China, and both my grandfathers were among the first generation of oil workers. I grew up in an oil field. And just the impact on the environment â€" I didn't realize it at the time but I never thought about cancer as being something abnormal because it seemed to me that everybody died of cancer in my community," she said.

Tommy DeFrantz is a professor of African and African American Dance at Duke University, and has been following Ananya Chatterjea's work since the late 1990s. He says there are lots of companies in the U.S. that try to have a mission of serving their community, but none succeed quite as well as hers.

DeFrantz says while there are other dance companies that focus on social justice, they end up spending much of their time touring. He says Ananya Dance Theatre is more rooted in its community, allowing it to have a greater local impact.

He also says having dancers on stage who are so engaged and informed about the subject of their work makes the performance that much more vibrant and compelling.

"Ananya Dance Theater looks at issues that are urgent to the people living in the area," he said. "Then it refracts and reflects ideas and stories around those issues through dance theater back towards audiences in the hopes of raising consciousness, raising action, inspiring beauty. It's a remarkable success story in terms of how the company is actually embedded in the community and serves its artists and its audience in such meaningful ways. On a national level it's incredibly valuable."

On a recent Friday night Ananya Dance Theatre performed Moreechika to a packed audience at the Southern Theater. Using a blend of movement derived from classical Indian dance, yoga and martial arts, Chatterjea and the other performers created a formidable image, stamping their feet, breathing deep, and often opening their eyes wide in anger or fear.

In the closing act, uncooked rice is spilled on the stage, and audience members are invited to "Occupy" the space, in a reference to the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. Afterward, the audience is encouraged to stay for a discussion, and in the lobby they are offered small cups of simply prepared rice, symbolizing how little we need to get by, if we all share.

Sociology student Anthony Jiminez said that for him, the experience was transformative. Jiminez says he left the theater with questions, mainly about how he can contribute more to being a part of the solution.

"I mean there were so many moments throughout the performance where I had chills, and it wasn't simply the performance itself, it was the message and how clear the message was that we are a part of this as well," he said. "We're part of the solution, but we're also part of the problem. And I think that's something that artistically this performance has done brilliantly."

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Ananya Chatterjea said that's the goal of her work.

"We can have facts and recognize them but not really be moved by them. Otherwise I think the whole world would be an activist place because the facts are out there. But there's something about creating emotional access, just revealing something about the human condition at the receiving end of these horrible policies and the kind of damage that happens to humanity. I feel if I could just reveal that through different stories, maybe we could look at it," she said.

Because of Ananya Chatterjea and her dance company, people are looking at these issues, and they are feeling compelled to make a difference. And that's what makes her not just an artist, but a community leader.

Will head injuries kill football? -

Both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the New York Times published articles over the weekend on former National Football League (NFL) players whose lives were devastated by football-related head injuries.

The articles emphasize the impact that the injuries have had on the families of the players.

The Strib piece, written by Mike Kaszuba, focuses on the family of Wally Hilgenberg, the former Minnesota Vikings linebacker who died in 2008 at age 66. He had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but an analysis of his brain after his death has led a group of Boston scientists to conclude his symptoms were more likely the result of repeated trauma to his head.

In the New York Times article, reporter Judy Battista describes what life is now like for 34-year-old Mitch White, who signed on as an offensive right tackle for several teams, including the New Orleans Saints, but who never played a regular season game because of injuries. His most devastating injury was a crushing hit to his head during a 2005 NFL training camp. White now suffers incapacitating migraine headaches and at times has difficulty thinking, talking or even moving. These symptoms have made it impossible for him to hold any kind of job or to care for his two young daughters.

White is among the more than 3,000 former NFL players who are suing the league for allegedly ignoring evidence of the link between football-related concussions and long-term brain injury. Hilgenberg’s widow, Mary, and their son, Eric, are lead plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit filed earlier this year against the NFL in federal court.

Conflicted feelings

These aren’t the first articles written about former NFL players whose health was destroyed by repeated on-the-field head injuries. Nor will they be the last. Neuroscientists have only begun to research and understand the impact of concussions â€" even seemingly “minor” ones â€" on the brain, and we will be seeing a string of new studies on this subject in the coming months and years. Just this month, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that professional football players are three times more likely to die from neurodegenerative brain disorders â€" including ALS â€" than the general U.S. population.

But what I found striking about both the Strib and the Times articles was the families’ highly conflicted attitudes toward the sport.

Although Eric Hilgenberg refuses to allow his sons to play football, his two sisters have children involved in the sport. And White, whose wife is expecting their third child, a son, later this year, says he would not stop the boy from playing football.

“I don’t hate the NFL,” White told Battista. “I love the sport. I in no way want to damage the league. I just thought I’d get better eventually. I had no idea this could be for the rest of your life. That this will affect you, your family, your wife. I expected to be hurt. I knew there was a possibility I could be paralyzed. Did I know I could get brain injury and be like this? No. I couldn’t fathom that happening.”

Apparently, he can’t fathom it happening to his son, either.

A change in perception

These families may be conflicted about letting their children play the game, but others aren’t. As ESPN’s Tim Keown reported last week, some evidence suggests that a growing number of parents, concerned about long-term brain injury, are keeping their children away from the sport:

You want to see the impact of our increased awareness of football's dangers? Look down, not up. Most of the high-minded discussions of safety in football center on the college and professional levels, where athletes are bigger and faster and the consequences of throwing your skull around for years are far more lasting and serious. But the biggest change in perception is taking place at the high school level. This is primarily anecdotal evidence, but, through three weeks of the season in California, there are some definite trends taking shape.

There are more schools struggling to round up more than 20 players. There are more and more comically lopsided scores â€" 50-0, 60-0 â€" making the dreaded second-half running clock a more frequent occurrence. The difference in participation, skill level and coaching ability between the schools with rich football traditions and those without them is growing exponentially. It's not a surprise that top-tier schools â€" Northern California's De La Salle, to pick one â€" feel compelled to play other top-tier schools from out of the area or out of state to get competition. There's a variety of demographic factors at work â€" private vs. public, parental involvement, off-campus vs. on-campus coaches â€" separating the haves from the have-nots.

I talked to the athletic director of a small private school in Oakland that has 20 players and no junior varsity team. It lost 62-0 in its first game â€" to a bad team. Against a worse one the next week, it lost 62-26.

"It's really tough to see a future," he told me.

As irrelevant as boxing?

Will football survive? As Ben McGrath pointed out in his excellent 2011 New Yorker article on concussions and football, the sport had an earlier violence-related crisis. At the turn of the 20th century, football was almost banned as a result of the appalling number of deaths that were occurring on the field â€" 18 in 1905 alone. Changes to the game, especially the introduction of the forward pass and new safety equipment, saved the sport.

Similar actions to reform football are being discussed today, but many neuroscientists remain skeptical that they will make the game any safer for the brain. Football’s future really lies in the attitudes of families who must weigh the risks and benefits of letting their sons play the game. If families â€" and their sons â€" increasingly conclude that the risks are not worth it, football will become as irrelevant as boxing.

In an interview at Wimbledon this summer, former basketball star Charles Barkley said he expects young African-American athletes to turn away from football to play less brain-risky sports, such as tennis and golf.

Two-thirds of NFL players are African-American.

Minneapolis News and Weather KMSP FOX 9NHL lockout: Wild fans, St. Paul ... - FOX 9 News

ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Monday marks day two of the NHL lockout. Nobody knows if this will be a short or season-long work stoppage because the league and the players haven't spoken in a couple of days.

No talks are scheduled as the two sides seem to be in no hurry to get reach an agreement in time for preseason games, which were supposed to begin next week.

That doesn't help downtown St. Paul business owners, who count on hockey to pay the bills.

The state of business and the State of Hockey go hand-in-hand around the Seven Corners area of downtown St. Paul, continuing east and west along 7th Street.

While most NHL players and teams can survive an extended lockout or even a cancellation of an entire season (as happened in 2004-05) some bars and restaurants aren't in that position. They fear it could be a lengthy lockout, with the NHL asking players to cut their share of revenue from 57 percent down to 47 percent in a sport that's sitting in the NFL's shadow.

Despite drawing Vikings fans on football Sundays, businesses on the east side of the Mississippi River need hockey.

"The Wild, when they're in town, that's 19,000 people in downtown St. Paul," said Bennett's Chop and Rail House owner Joe Bennett.

"We count on that revenue to make it through the year and not having it is going to be a problem for us," said Greg Awada of Zamboni's Pizza and Pub.

The Wild is sending information to season ticket holders Monday morning.

Monday is also the first day NHL players can talk with other leagues. Many will land in Russia's KHL to keep their skills sharp so they can be ready to go back to work in North America if the two sides can reach a deal.