2008 brought change to School District 191


Metcalf Junior High chess coach Brian Ribnick stands on the new “chess patio,” a giant chess board that’s a tribute to the school’s outsized accomplishments in competitive chess. It was built over the summer and dedicated in September. Photo by John Gessner

by John Gessner
Thisweek Newspapers

Change was in the air last year in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.

Superintendent Ben Kanninen, whose 10-year tenure made him one of the metro area’s longest-serving school chiefs, retired and was replaced by Iowan Randall Clegg.

Retirees also included Burnsville High School Principal Kay Joyce and Vicki Roy, the School Board’s chair and senior member.

The district dealt with ever-tightening sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act and made the leap into magnet schools, which will open next fall.
Ben Kanninen

Kanninen said voters’ passage of a levy referendum in November 2007 made his decision to retire on June 30 easier by solidifying the district’s finances. A district not in financial distress, he said, would attract a better field of candidates to replace him.

Roy, who was chair of the board that hired Kanninen a decade earlier, credited him with strengthening the district while managing financial crises, including six major budget cuts in 10 years.

“We’ve also had four referendums during the time he’s been here — two successful, two not successful,” Roy said. “When you think of 10 years, that’s a lot of financial stuff to be doing in a relatively short period of time. As he’s had to deal with that, he’s also set the district on a path where we have exceeded expectations. We’re stronger academically, our curriculum-review process is so much better than it was, and it has put us in a position where, even with (budget) reductions, we’ve had stronger and better classes for our students to take. He’s managed to find a way to broaden our co-curriculars to keep our athletics (programs) from reductions by making them into enterprises. That was something that no one ever thought of in schools a few short years ago.”

Kanninen said a highlight of his tenure was overseeing development of Diamondhead Education Center as not only a campus for high school seniors but as an all-ages site for senior citizens, a student health clinic, preschool special education and child care.

Kanninen began a part-time job in August as senior director of school success for Community Action Council in Dakota County. His duties included developing programs to have underprivileged children reading by third grade.
Randall Clegg

The board hired Randall Clegg, 52, who was superintendent for 12 years in Clinton, Iowa, a blue-collar city of 25,000 on the Mississippi River. Clegg, who was a superintendent in Iowa districts for 23 years, began work July 1.

Clegg, who led an overhaul of the Clinton district’s curriculum, was credited with improving student achievement despite the district’s low-income profile and high-transience rate.

In District 191, he has embarked upon a seven-year curriculum review to align what is taught and tested and ensure consistency across all schools and grade levels.

Clegg’s other initiatives include making the district budget more transparent, improving marketing of the district and a year-long review of building and facility needs by a committee with broad representation.

2008 was a year of planning magnet programs that are part of a state-mandated racial-integration plan between Burnsville-Eagan-Savage and the adjoining Lakeville Area School District, which has a much smaller percentage of minority students.

Next fall, an all-school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program will open at William Byrne Elementary.

An optional STEM magnet program will begin at Metcalf Junior High.

A gifted and talented magnet will be established at Harriet Bishop Elementary. It will be a hybrid program, with schoolwide enrichment for all students and targeted instruction within the school day for students identified as gifted.

Envision Academy, a performing arts magnet for grades nine through 12, will feature performance classes at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center and core academic classes in rented space at the nearby Grande Market Place building.

The School Board’s final weeks of 2008 were consumed by controversy over whether to cluster both academic and performance classes in a “stand-alone” school or hold academic classes at Burnsville High School as originally envisioned when planning for the school began.

The board voted 4-3 for the stand-alone school.{mospagebreak}
No Child Left Behind

Sky Oaks, Edward Neill and Vista View elementary schools were placed on the “Stage 1” sanction list under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The schools failed to make “adequate yearly progress” on test scores for a particular student subgroup for two consecutive years.

The sanction — the first in a series proscribed for schools repeatedly missing AYP — was unprecedented in District 191.

Parents were allowed to pull their children out of those schools and send them to other district schools that have made AYP.

Only a trickle of parents have inquired about transferring to other schools since the AYP results were released in the summer, principals of the three schools said.
College at

A partnership announced in October among the district, the city of Burnsville and Concordia University of St. Paul will bring college courses to the district’s Diamondhead Education Center.

In addition to offering college degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels, Concordia will work with District 191 Community Education to offer “academic certificate” programs that could be used for college credits.
Chess success

Metcalf Junior High continued its long dominance in chess competition with a state team title in March. Metcalf ninth-grader Alex Powell won the state individual title.

In September, the school dedicated a 400-square-foot “chess patio” that was built over the summer on the lawn near the school’s main entrance.

The giant chess board the board is made of 2-by-2 concrete pavers and bordered by red bricks, many inscribed with personal messages from former players and other project donors. Fund-raising and donated labor made the project possible.

The project celebrates a legacy built under coach Brian Ribnick, whose Metcalf teams have won 11 national titles and 21 state titles in 25 years.

Notable retirements from the district included Burnsville High School Principal Kay Joyce. A secondary teacher and administrator in the district since 1976, Joyce was principal for six years of Minnesota’s largest grades 10-through-12 school.

David Helke, who was principal of Eagle Ridge Junior High, is her interim replacement. Two searches for a permanent replacement yielded one candidate who took another job and a second field of candidates who didn’t meet the district’s selection criteria.

Vicki Roy, the School Board’s senior member, announced in September she wouldn’t seek re-election. She was appointed to fill a board vacancy in 1992 and has been elected four times.

Roy gained stature in education policy circles during her tenure. She’s a past president of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts and serves on the board of the Minnesota School Boards Association, which named her a past Board Member of the Year. She’s past chair of the Alliance for Student Achievement, a statewide consortium of education groups.

Todd Johnson, a board member since 2000, sought office as the Republican candidate in House District 40A instead of seeking a third board term. Johnson is also chair of the Minnesota State Board of Teaching.

English teacher Don Gerlach retired from full-time teaching after 39 years in education, 34 of them at Burnsville High School. At various times, Gerlach coached debate, the Quiz Bowl team, the National Honor Society and the girls soccer team, which won back-to-back state titles in 1992 and 1993.

Elected to the School Board in November were Burnsville residents DeeDee Currier, a former District 191 elementary principal, and Sandra Sweep. Board Member Ron Hill of Savage was re-elected.

John Gessner is at burnsville.thisweek@ecm-inc.com.

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