Impassioned plea to save SLAs delivered to District 11 board members

Laser-sharp scalpels in hand, state legislators slash the budget, making deep incisions in attempts to reduce the deficit. Amputations sometimes result.

Making his way through the crowd of students, parents and staff waiting to address assembled board members during the open forum portion of the May 13 Anoka-Hennepin school board meeting, Champlin Park High School senior Ellis Sherman approaches the podium, making an urgent plea to keep student learning advocates in the schools. Photo by Sue Austreng

Making his way through the crowd of students, parents and staff waiting to address assembled board members during the open forum portion of the May 13 Anoka-Hennepin school board meeting, Champlin Park High School senior Ellis Sherman approaches the podium, making an urgent plea to keep student learning advocates in the schools. Photo by Sue Austreng

That seems to be the case in Anoka-Hennepin School District as administrators informed staff last week that all 22 of the district’s student learning advocates (SLA) would be eliminated due to a cut in the state’s integration fund.

You see, due to those cuts, Anoka-Hennepin will have $450,000 less in the integration fund this coming school year and $1.5 million less the next year.

SLAs, hired on a year-to-year basis using money from that fund, serve Anoka-Hennepin’s diverse population of students, serving as mentors, providing leadership, offering encouragement and accountability and motivating students to succeed.

Some two dozen of those students attended the school board’s May 13 meeting, addressing assembled board members during open forum and desperately seeking to save those SLAs.

“You take the SLAs away, it’s like sending your child into the jungle without a guide,” said Champlin Park High School graduate Mary Page. “Relating to someone who looks like you – that is who can help you. They’re the ones who come to us with open arms. SLAs are our parents away from home.”

Those sentiments were repeated many times and in many ways by those who addressed the board.

Students – nearly all of whom are Champlin Park High School students or recent graduates – told board members they wouldn’t be who they are or have the success they’ve realized without the influence and service of the SLAs.

They spoke of rescue from destructive behaviors, renewed confidence, newfound ambition and determination, a greater sense of purpose and value.

They spoke of the loss and the fear that they believe will result if SLAs are no longer in the schools.

Champlin Park senior Arthur Rundles said, “SLAs have showed me who my real self is. They help all kids, all nationalities. If those are dropped I feel really sad for those generations.”

Alexis Barmon, a junior at Coon Rapids High School, put it this way, “My SLA is the reason I believe in myself. When another black woman is standing before me telling me I can do it, it’s different, it gives me self-empowerment, self-respect. The SLAs give us what the school textbook cannot give us.”

Notes sent by Anoka-Hennepin school faculty members to ABC Newspapers described a “huge loss for our most at-risk population” and said they felt cutting the SLAs would be “a serious loss for the district and will work directly against efforts to reduce the racial achievement gap in our district.”

Jefferson Fietek, drama teacher at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, spoke of that school’s SLA and his profound connection and uplifting influence on students there.

Lisa Christensen, English teacher at Champlin Park High School, told board members that “these people (SLAs) are irreplaceable.”

In fact, Champlin Park senior Ellis Sherman said SLAs “helped me learn to focus on school, challenge myself, they motivated me to do more. SLAs are the reason behind improved test scores,” he said.

Ekow Nana-Kweson, a student at Champlin Park, put it this way, “Education is a greater investment than the dollar amount saved by losing the SLAs.”

Once all the testimonies had been delivered, School Board Chairman Tom Heidemann thanked those seated in the packed board room for their decorum, their patience and their respect.

Then he told them, “We’re looking at a $10 to $17 million cut in Anoka-Hennepin. This is the start of very painful conversations, and we are committed to doing our best to balance all the needs.”

Superintendent Dennis Carlson echoed those sentiments, and then said, “We’ve been fighting this battle for a long time and we are pledging to bring back restructured student support.”

“It’s a tough charge,” he said, “but that’s where we are and I’m sorry our students and staff have to pay the price for chronic underfunding.”

Indeed, the Anoka-Hennepin student services department is currently working to establish a way to continue offering support to students.

No action or announcement was taken or made during the May 13 school board meeting.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

  • Erica

    Teachers’ unions are sucking it all up. But frankly, if something has to be cut and it’s not going to be teachers’ benefits and their retirement bennies, then this is the type of thing that should go. Sorry – it’s not a necessity.

    • Robin Mavis

      Erica are you a resident of Anoka Hennepin School District? Do you own a home in the district? Do you have children who attend school there? If you do, I am very shocked at your comment. I would suggest that you get some facts about what our teachers are paid and what their benefits are. They are not higher than other districts in the metropolitan areas. If you want great teachers for our students we have to stay on par with other districts for pay and benefits. I’d also like to ask – would you be willing to put in all the work they do and put up with all the BS that happens at school for the amount of pay they receive? I bet you wouldn’t.
      Finally, as a tax payer, home-owner and parent of a student in the district, I think we need to keep the SLAs and find other things to cut or increase revenue. If test scores fall, truancy increases, behaviorial issues increase it will only add to an already fragile perception of our school district. That in turn pushes down house values and chases away sustainable businesses for our area.
      I personally feel that there needs to be a drastic change in our district board membership and administration. We would have had enough money for these SLAs had the board and offices stayed in their Hanson Blvd location and sold the Sandberg Middle School building to developers to redevelop into loft style affordable housing. Instead they spend about a million dollars refurbing Sandberg so they can have a ‘more comfortable’ board room, meanwhile the Hanson Blvd location remains unsold, unleased and starting to delapidate after they claimed it would be so much easier to sell the Hanson location…I call BS. I think they mismanage our money and frankly wonder why the board doesn’t take a stipend cut to show how much they are concerned but instead give themselves a raise for doing a part time job in a half-ass way.

  • Mary

    Erica, you couldn’t be more wrong. SLA’s are an important link in keeping at risk kids in school, offering their best hope of a better life than what they’ve know in their short lives. The reduced cost to society by helping these kids become productive members of society is immeasurable. They need to find a way to keep these programs going.

  • R.Hill

    “serving as mentors, providing leadership, offering encouragement and accountability and motivating students to succeed.” Sounds like the Parents job.

  • melissa thompson

    The fact that these students were led to believe their words would be heard and could impact the outcome is disgraceful. Just another example of how this school board is all about appearances. All about giving the impression of collaboration and unity when in fact the decision to cut those jobs was already made and they had no intention of changing it.

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