Weather Forecast


Reshaping education - Commissioner touts governor's plan in Alexandria

Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education Alice Seagren

ALEXANDRIA - Alice Seagren might know a thing or two about education.

Not only is she the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), but she also served on the Bloomington School Board, was chair of the House Education Finance Committee and a member of the Education Policy, Education Finance, Ways and Means and Transportation Policy committees.

On Friday, February 27, she gave a presentation to a small crowd at the Alexandria Technical College titled, "Transforming Minnesota's System of Education." The presentation was a description of Governor Tim Pawlenty's education proposal.

The event was sponsored by the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce as part of its Lunch 'n Learn series.

If students are going to be prepared for success in the 21st century, the state cannot rest on its past success or be afraid to deal with the challenges it faces today, Seagren said.

Some of the new challenges, according to the commissioner, are that many of today's top-rated jobs or the top 10 in-demand jobs of the next few years didn't even exist six years ago.

In addition, today's learners are expected to have between 10 to 14 jobs before age 40, she said, adding that the statistics came from the U.S. Department of Labor.

When there are challenges, however, the commissioner also said there are opportunities.

Opportunities that include reshaping and transforming the education system; recruiting, retaining and retraining effective teachers; and using innovations that focus more of the state's $14 billion K-12 investment on improving student achievement.

"We need to keep moving forward," said Seagren.

A part of the governor's education proposal, said Seagren, is the Teaching Transformation Act.

Research by Robert Marzano in 2003 found that after parents, the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom is the most important factor in increasing student achievement.

With that, Seagren said school districts need to have the best, high-quality teachers in their classrooms.

"Just like doctors hold the lives of children in their hands, teachers should do that educationally for their students," said Seagren.

As part of the Teaching Transformation Act, Governor Pawlenty and Seagren would like to see Q-Comp expanded. Q-Comp is a teacher compensation program that focuses on teacher performance, which is based on academic achievements, not years of service. Currently, there are 44 school districts and 28 charter schools in the state that serve 255,232 students, participating in the program.

Alexandria School District 206 was one of the first in the state to participate in the program, but it decided to drop out because it was worried about funding. Seagren said she hopes the school district will reconsider.

Other ideas under the Teaching Transformation Act include:

•Creating a mid-career alternative program to recruit more mid-career professionals to teaching.

•Creating the UTeach program to offer incentives to recruit teachers to subject areas experiencing shortages, including math and science.

•Improving teacher preparation programs at Minnesota colleges and universities.

•Expanding math and science teacher academies.

Another part of the governor's plan is to start sharing services between Minnesota school districts and charter schools to help reduce costs.

An example Seagren presented was a Pennsylvania school that was able to save approximately $100,000 through the sharing of food services that helped standardized health and safety practices. "Let's combine some of the services and supplies used by our schools and charter schools to be more cost effective," said Seagren.

She also talked about an incentive program that would essentially "pay for progress."

Seagren feels that school districts should be rewarded or paid for student success. For instance, she said that the state can start by providing rewards and incentives to school districts that use existing resources to improve students' performance.

Additionally, the state should increase school district funding by up to 2 percent per student for students meeting standards or at least showing reasonable progress toward achievement.

"They [the students] may be not 100 proficient, but they have progressed," said the commissioner.

Other reforms or programs Seagren highlighted included online education, a Principals Institute and a Summer of Success program.

As she concluded her presentation, Seagren spoke of her parents and growing up in the Depression, and how Minnesota is a state known for its people overcoming obstacles.

She also talked about how John Adams - the second president of the United States - wanted to educate every child, and that now the nation has a new president.

"You may like him, you may not like him, but we all have to work together," she said. "We have to fight together to make sacrifices for our children."