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Brownlow, Dahlstrom see larger role for education

Superintendent Paul Brownlow's goals for Verndale students have not changed after Minnesota received a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements.

President Barack Obama announced last week that Minnesota was one of 10 states selected for the special waiver which will free Minnesota public schools from six criteria which were imposed by the NCLB Act of 2001.

"I'm the first guy that believes in accountability," Brownlow said. "I don't want to lose any accountability."

NCLB in its present form is considered by some to be restrictive and punitive. School districts failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward the goal of having students achieve proficiency in reading, math and science risk federal sanctions.

NCLB's stated goal is to have every student proficient in those core subjects by 2014.

"We see students of all different backgrounds," Brownlow said. "Sometimes the expectations were unrealistic."

Brownlow sees future education strategies at Verndale demanding more from schools, parents and students. As an administrator, Brownlow believes that while good grades in the class room are important, they not always the best measure of a student. Speaking as a parent, Brownlow said he wanted to see his children become "responsible and productive" people.

"We want to make sure they've got the skills to be successful," Brownlow said.

Wadena-Deer Creek Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom also has a larger view of what education is today. "We're not just common core to the students we're common core to the community," Dahlstrom said.

Minnesota's application for a waiver from NCLB had to meet four principles - college and career-ready academic standards, a state-developed system of differentiated recognition, accountability and support, supporting effective instruction and leadership and a reduction of unnecessary administrative burdens.

Accountability has drawn the most attention. Unlike AYP, which centered mostly around proficiency, the proposed Multiple Measurements Rating will use four equally-weighed measurements in judging a school's success - proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rate.

"The real difference in Minnesota is that we will be labeling schools differently," Dahlstrom said.

Using MMR, the top 15 percent of schools will be labeled Reward Schools. These will represent the highest-performing schools. Focus Schools will be the 10 percent of Title I schools with the lowest focus ratings. They will have to work with Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and their district to implement serious interventions aimed at improving the performance of the school's lowest-performing subgroups. Priority Schools will be the five percent of the most persistently low performing Title I schools.

The MDE has proposed the creation of two additional groups - Title I schools in the 25 percent of schools directly behind the Reward School cutoff will be able to apply to be Celebration Schools. Another 25 percent of Title I schools will be identified as Continuous Improvement Schools if they are not already Priority or Focus Schools.