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Tech students make recommendations for change

Thursday August 13, 2015

St. Cloud Tech students gather in March outside the school. More than 100 students and a few parents were involved in a protest. On Wednesday, several students told the St. Cloud school board what they think should change in the months and years ahead.

The cultural issues that culminated in a couple of disruptions last spring at Technical High School surfaced again on Wednesday night, only this time at Apollo. But this time, voices were calm as several students told the St. Cloud school board what they think should change in the months and years ahead.

A couple of dozen people listened as the students and their advisers recounted what happened after a group of about 70 students, mostly Somali, walked out of school one day. Two days later, a brief containment situation followed. The disturbance was sparked, but not limited to, a Somali girl who was bullied and harassed through social media, after which some students felt their outrage was not heard by administrators.

On Wednesday, Sebastian Witherspoon, director of equity services for the district, and Al Johnson, principal at the McKinley Area Learning Center, each delivered statements as the adviser for their respective groups — a culture and climate group representative of the Tech student body, and a student advocate team of Somali and other minority students.

But it was the students who drew the most attention from the board and onlookers.

Omar Faisal and Mohamed Rashid, members of the student advocate team, distributed a document to the board outlining a series of requests that include creation of a student cultural advisory group, training for staff members in cultural awareness, school-wide training in restorative justice, monthly community chats and a student-led peer council, among other suggestions.

“I think something will be done,” Omar said outside the conference room after his presentation. “What we have gone through is going to be worth it and our work isn’t done. We’re confident in ourselves now and we’ll ask for help from more people if anything should happen again.”

Kaydee Miller and Rachel Christenson, members of the culture and climate group, also asked for cultural classes, twice-monthly meetings to discuss cultural topics — called Tiger Chat — as well as a school culture and fun day and other opportunities for cultural enlightenment.

Since it was a board work session, there was no action to take. Witherspoon said both Tech and Apollo have plans for some of the suggestions and action also will be taken at North and South junior high schools. Staff or school-wide training would need board action, however.

“I believe they will take action,” Johnson said afterward. “I say that because of some of the questions I heard about ‘What would you do if this happens again?’ Because it will happen again if we don’t take steps to change. Another question was ‘What difference will this make eight years from now?’ They know it’s imperative that we be proactive. We’re asking for a lot but, if we do this right, we can change St. Cloud and maybe even the whole state.”

Superintendent Willie Jett closed the session on a promising note.

“Thank you for modeling what this discussion should be and how everything can be a teachable moment,” Jett said. “What you’ve said was more than impressive, and anything we can do to assist, ask and it shall be done.”

In other action Wednesday:

• As part of its consent agenda, the board unanimously approved an administration recommendation that requests for proposals to be awarded to three companies to collaborate on the process to construct a new building at Clark Field. The structure will house early childhood programs, community education, a welcome center, district offices and media services. Miller Architecture submitted a low bid of a 2.15 percent rate to provide architectural services. R.A. Morton will provide construction manager services at $399,000, and Design Tree Engineering will be responsible for engineering services at $375,000.

Seven architectural firms and seven construction companies submitted fixed-fee bids for the project. There were six competitors for engineering services.

• Steve Wagner, assistant principal at Tech this fall, will be paid $91,700. His reassignment from Apollo was effective July 1 and his salary is amended from an incorrect entry in the agenda for the July 23 school board meeting.



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