Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank You SCRED. I want to thank the staff at the St. Croix River Education District (SCRED) for inviting me to their annual meeting. The meeting was at Grand Casino-Hinckley (don't worry, I didn't make a massive cash withdrawl and blow the entire SEE budget on slots) and was very informative. Four of the five SCRED members are also SEE members (Hinckley-Finlayson, Pine City, Rush City, and Chisago Lakes) and SCRED invited other SEE members Braham, Cambridge-Isanti, Mora, and North Branch to attend the meeting as well. It was like a SEE regional meeting where I didn't talk (and many were thankful for that).

First-year SCRED Executive Director Dr. Kim Gibbons gave a very informative presentation on Response-to-Intervention (RtI) and how SCRED's long history with RtI has fared. For those of you who don't know, SCRED was "RtI before RtI was cool" (paraphrasing Barbara Mandrell here) and has been working to incorporate greater use of curriculum-based measurement and response to identified learning issues with research-based intervention for over 20 years. It hasn't always been easy, as they have tussled with the Minnesota Department of Education on the use of RtI, but they appear to be winning the day as RtI is now becoming a nationally-recognized success at improving learning.

SCRED is lucky to have Dr. Gibbons at the helm. She has a national reputation as a leader on RtI and her work is helping school districts throughout Minnesota understand how this system can improve achievement and, if applied correctly, lower the identification of children with specific learning disabilities. I don't think I need to tell everyone how once a child enters special education they often become a "high cost" student. Special education is extremely important, but for it to be effective, it must be the appropriate placement for the student. RtI helps make certain that children are not being shuffled off to special education simply because there isn't another program to handle their needs.

Dr. Gibbons has provided me with a copy of the Powerpoint of her prensentation to a national leadership conference held this fall in Rochester, MN, and I will pass that on to anyone who is interested.

The rest of the evening was dedicated to discussion with local legislators. Representatives Jeremy Kalin (DFL-North Branch), Rob Eastlund (R-Cambridge), Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson) and Tim Faust (DFL-Mora) and Senator Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris) were in attendance and fielded a number of tough (but politely asked) questions from the crowd of school admininstrators and school board members. In the picture on the right, Hinckley-Finlayson Superintendent Jack Almos is moderating a discussion between (from the left) Representative Bill Hilty, Representative Tim Faust, and Isanti and Pine County school districts.

The universal response--and appropriately so--is that the budget negotiations are going to dictate everything. The deficits, both for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next biennium, appear to be getting worse given the continuing lay-offs. Given that, the legislators present were extremely reluctant to make any projections on what may happen, good or bad.

The one thing, and I believe it is positive, that was broached was how this may be the optimal time to talk about transforming how government services, including education, are delivered. With the entitlement programs we have in place and the baby boom now just beginning to consume those entitlements, it is going to be difficult for society to continue propping up the status quo.
What we need to be concerned about in SEE is that any transformation of education leads to greater equity. As we know, and I did touch on this informally with a couple of the legislators present, is that while this may be an opportunity to close some funding gaps, the temptation on the part of a number of legislators in an era when state resources are tight will be to let those districts who have higher property wealth "take care of themselves" while everyone else will be left to muddle along. That simply cannot be allowed to happen.

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