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MN Teacher of the Year: Why I’m walking in the snow for St. Paul students

snow footprints
I’m going to be walking through the snow before dawn. I’m walking because I know for a fact that even with the best teacher, a kid gets a better education in a smaller class.

I’m a teacher, and I’m also a parent. This morning I will be walking in the cold with fellow St. Paul educators and parents across the city. We are going to walk to ask the St. Paul Board of Education to settle a contract, which makes real progress on issues that parents care about, including lowering class sizes and increasing access to preschool. We educators are not on strike – yet – but we need the board to know that our kids can’t wait any longer for our contract issues to be addressed.

Megan Olivia Hall

These are professional issues for me, but they are also personal. For the last two years, my husband and I have been making do with a little bit less so that we can afford a great preschool for our son. We never feel worry or stress when we drop him off, knowing that he benefits from a class size of seven. His teachers give him all the attention and care he needs, making sure he gains the skills he’ll need to be successful in elementary school and beyond.

We did start to feel some worry and stress this fall when we started touring kindergartens. Our son will go to kindergarten in St. Paul Public Schools, and we are excited for him to benefit from the expertise and passion of St. Paul’s devoted teachers, but I can’t pretend we weren’t taken aback when we saw classes of 25, 27 or even 29 5-year-olds with only one teacher.

Small class, better education

I’m going to be walking through the snow before dawn. I’m walking because I know for a fact that even with the best teacher, a kid gets a better education in a smaller class. I know it in my head from my 12 years as a science teacher. I know it in my heart as a mother. Smaller classes are safer, calmer, more focused and more kid-centered. In a smaller class, my child will be more engaged and better cared for. As a result, he’ll be more successful.

I’m going to walk through the snow because I believe every young child deserves a spot in a PreK classroom. It’s been a bit of a pinch for our family to pay for private preschool, but we can do it. Many families can’t. Right now, there are 700 kids waiting to get into public preschool in St. Paul. Most of the middle-school and high-school students I teach didn’t get to go to preschool. They started kindergarten behind kids from families with the means to pay for PreK, and some of them are still working to catch up. Ability to pay shouldn’t determine which St. Paul kids get preschool. I want all the kids in my home city, from every walk of life, to start their education right, with the best possible chance of success. And that means access to PreK for all.

Bring back nurses, librarians …

I’m walking through the snow because I want to bring back all the professionals who have meaningful impacts on kids’ lives, but whose work is not directly reflected in test scores. I want to teach in a district with nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors in all our schools. I want my son to get the help he needs when he needs it, and I want his classmates to be just as well cared for.

If you’re a parent in St. Paul, and you believe in smaller classes, access to PreK for all, and better staffing, join me as I walk.  If you can’t make it to your child’s school in the early-morning hours, contact your school board members and encourage them to settle the teacher contract in a way that benefits students. 

A pivotal moment

Will this cost more? Yes, but thanks to the victories of the previous Legislature and the levy support of St. Paul voters, our school district has $47.6 in unrestricted funds to meet the critical needs of our students.

I’m a dedicated teacher and a dedicated mother. I love my son and I love my students. Every day, I see the problems faced by public education, and every day, I look for solutions. St. Paul is at a pivotal moment. We have hope for real and lasting change. Join St. Paul’s teachers as we walk in a cold, snowy morning to give St. Paul kids the schools they deserve.

Megan Olivia Hall is the 2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year and a science teacher at the Open World Learning Community school in St. Paul.

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If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/30/2014 - 09:09 am.

    Maybe we should re-think this

    Your school district’s budget this year is $494,700,000. Total enrollment is only 39,000.

    That comes to $12,685 per student. At 30 students per classroom, that’s over $380,000 per classroom. For that kind of money kids should be acing the ACT. Maybe parents should be given a check for $12,685 per kid to spend on their kids’ education as they see fit.

    Or maybe the whole structure of public education should be re-thought. Can you imagine what could be accomplished if an educator was given $380,000 per year to teach 30 kids?

    Think one-room school house. Now think putting that school house online, with all the modern technologies and none of the antiquated logistics (buses, lunch rooms, text books, heating & cooling costs, security).

    Instead, you’re stuck in a model that requires more and more money even as the enrollments decline simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. It’s time to consider a new paradigm for public education.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/30/2014 - 12:29 pm.

      Sure, Dennis,

      we can send them all to private schools here in Ramsey County, where minority enrollment is 18% of the student body, which is less than the Minnesota state average of 22%, the student:teacher ratio of 11:1 is lower than the state private school average of 12:1 and the tuition is equal to or substantially more than what we spend per pupil in St. Paul public schools.

      http://www.privateschoolreview.com/county_private_schools/stateid/MN/county/27123

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/30/2014 - 12:31 pm.

      PS

      We also subsidize the cost of private education through property tax exemptions and the deductibility of charitable contributions, to name a few of the biggest areas.

  2. Submitted by Peter Rachleff on 01/30/2014 - 04:11 pm.

    Let’s support our teachers

    Thanks, Olivia, for your great article and your great work. I have had the very good fortune to witness, up close, the fantastic work that Open World teachers do with our community’s children. And I know similar work is being done all over the city. We taxpayers, we citizens, we need to support our teachers and let the administration know that our teachers know what our children need to grow and develop.

  3. Submitted by Juliana James on 01/30/2014 - 04:50 pm.

    Educating the World Child

    Well, just having retired from the St. Paul Public School District, I just say that asking for more nurses, counselors, librarians, art and music are intelligent things to ask for because it is for the children. Class size really matters and as for testing, 5 year old children do not need reading and math tests….the new Common Core standards “shove” expectations at children that are not developmentally appropriate. Putting 4th grade reading expectations (they are in the state standards) into kindergarten common core standards is ludicrous. The public needs to know exactly how much instructional time is lost per year per grade level for the overtesting zealotry going on in our schools. Educate the whole child, art, social studies, science, phy. ed. instrumental music during the school day, librarians, counselors, low class size, it all costs money and that money is very well spent.

  4. Submitted by John Bracken on 01/31/2014 - 08:16 am.

    SOS: Support Our Students

    Unions represent union members. No one represents students. I was a teacher in Anoka-Hennepin. Not once did I ever hear our school rep ask “What is best for students?” In the late ’90s I did hear our rep say that everyone was expected to “work to the rule” until we got our contract. Some things never change…There are great teachers, ok teachers, horrible teachers. Don’t worry horrible teachers, your union has your back. As for the students…tough luck. If you do not like it, form a union to protect yourself against other unions.

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