The parking lot at District 279’s Educational Service Center on Tuesday night was full. So was the building’s cafeteria and board room. Hundreds of educators spilled out into the hallways and sat on the floor when no chairs were available.
The show of force was an effort to convince District 279 School Board Members that a number of district policies and initiatives, including standards based grading, are guiding students and teachers away from the district’s mission.
“We teachers are grateful to the parents of the Osseo School District who entrust their children to us and work with us to provide the best education possible for the students,” said Annette Walen, the first teacher to speak at the Jan. 22 school board meeting. “As professionals we want to do what’s best for kids, but we have been facing more and more obstacles that are getting in the way of the quality education that our children and our families deserve.”
Walen gave school board members a stack of 755 letters signed by teachers in the district who want to see change. She said she hopes that Tuesday night’s presentations will lead to more honest dialogue between district leadership and staff regarding how to improve student learning.
Teacher Gloria Singh said that her colleagues in the district can’t foster success in the classroom because of the lack of preparation given to new initiatives.
“We want to deliver instruction in the quality, professional way we know our children deserve,” Singh said. “As new initiatives have been implemented, we believe these programs have moved forward without the preparation necessary to foster success for all of our students and ultimately our community.”
Singh’s examples included what she called a “haphazard implementation” of the district’s spelling program, the teaching of Minnesota history without curriculum and receiving new science kits without sufficient training.
“Standards Based Grading has been rolled out in a piecemeal fashion without anticipating and addressing potential glitches beforehand,” Singh said. “We continue to receive confusing and conflicting messages from district administrators as to how to determine grades under the new system.”
Related: Parents Express Concern About ISD 279 Standards Based Grading
When Singh finished her statement, she received a standing ovation from those packed in the boardroom. The applause lasted minutes.
Osseo Senior High School teacher Shawn Johnson followed Singh’s speech, adding that Standards Based Grading forces teachers to undermine the district’s mission. Johnson said that Standards Based Grading allows students who would normally fail a class to pass.
“No one here would think that the practice of passing failing students prepares them to be competent,” Johnson said. “It’s not the teacher’s responsibility to fix a broken grading system.”
Long time Osseo Senior High School teacher Paul Wardell compared the district’s teachers to crew on a ship with a broken sextant.
“We are off mission,” Wardell, a teacher for 37 years, said. “The grading practices have been invented by employes of this district...none of which use the tool they’ve invented. So, as we row this ship,the sexton has been created for us that does not work. As we say, ‘the sextant does not work,’ what we’re hearing is, ‘raise the sails, full steam ahead.’”