District 11 considers model to rehire SLAs

A happy surprise from the Minnesota Legislature means that Anoka-Hennepin School District administration can consider restoring some student support services.

The Anoka-Hennepin District 11 School Board cut 22 student learning advocates (SLAs) and four Indian education advisers at its May 28 board meeting as administrators anticipated deep and potentially fatal cuts in state money which funds those services.

The surprise came when legislative action taken late in the 2013 session reduced the cuts in integration funding.

And so, at its June 24 school board meeting, board members considered a plan to rehire 20 SLAs and three Indian education advisers.

As she delivered the proposal, called “Building Futures for Anoka-Hennepin Students,” Associate Superintendent Dr. Jinger Gustafson told board members that “even as we were looking at reduction we were also looking at building (services). We put together some big, broad ideas to capture the input we received from students, parents, families and staff.”

That input – and the resulting ideas – revolve around providing support, activating outreach, advocating for students of color and providing opportunities for growth.

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

Indian education advisers work to encourage and inspire academic achievement, social and emotional development and cultural awareness of the district’s American Indian students.

“We want to minimize achievement gaps. We want students to know without doubt that they have support. We want them to feel that support,” Gustafson said.

Director of Student Services Linda Anderson, who partnered with Gustafson in making the proposal, told board members that SLAs would be assigned to schools at each level: elementary, middle, high school and alternative.

In other words, rather than assigning nine SLAs at the high school level, seven at the middle level and four at the elementary level, there will be six SLAs assigned at each level, according to Anderson.

There will also be two SLAs assigned at the alternative school level, Anderson said.

“A shift in our support will increase a broader geographic presence,” she said.

If the student support model is accepted by board members, there will be a broader level of student support service across the board, Anderson said, and she anticipated an increased depth of communication along with it.

“It’s sad that we have to go through this, but it’s the nature of the beast with funding,” said board member Bill Harvey, commenting on the painful process involved in reducing student support staff.

“I lament that we have to go through this because any hiccup in the process greatly affects those students who need this support,” he said.

Superintendent Dennis Carlson echoed board members’ anguish and explained why the district was forced to make the cuts in the first place.

“The Legislature gives us money in categories and we have to cut from those categories,” he said.” We can’t cut somewhere else.”

“I don’t agree with this formula and we argued that point for six months. We lost that argument and cuts had to be made, painful cuts. But I applaud you for putting together this model.”

Board members will consider adoption of the student support model at its July 8 board meeting.

For more about the proposed student support model, look for the “Building Futures for Anoka-Hennepin Students” power point on the school district website at www.anoka.k12.mn.us.