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St. Paul Public Schools wants to hire 70 professional learning leads at cost of $7.9 million

April 03, 2019 11:40 PM

St. Paul Public Schools has told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the district would like to hire 70 professional learning leads over the next two years at a cost of $7.9 million.

SPPS said the learning leads would not actually teach students in the classroom, but would provide support and "professional development" for teachers across the district.

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A district spokesperson told KSTP the professional leads would not be considered part of the district's administration, and would be classified as "Teachers on Special Assignment."

The average salary for each position would be $113,845.


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Sarah Wellington has taught in the St. Paul school district the past 19 years. She said she is "incensed" by the district's plans to hire more classroom coaches and not more teachers or support staff.

"This is insulting because we're all down here and we are really struggling," Wellington said. "The kids are really hurting and (the district administration is) adding another level up here that does not touch the kids that we're here for."

A district spokesperson said 60 percent of the funding would come through federal Title I money, while 40 percent would come from the district's general fund.

Thirty-two learning leads would be hired in 2019-20 and 38 more in 2020-21.

Wellington said the Title I money could be used to hire more teachers, and she does not understand why the district thinks hiring "teachers on special assignment" would be a better approach.

"Why are they doing this to us again," she asked. "We already have district coaches, building coaches and we have content coaches. So we already have jobs that exist like this."

SPPS declined KSTP's request for an on-camera interview, but did issue a written statement from spokesperson Kevin Burns.

"Learning Leads are teachers who will support their peers. Their role is to support school staff, assist in developing the site's school improvement plans and foster professional development (PD) and learning," the statement read.

"This is personalized, on-site professional development for our educators. Typical professional development, what some term "sit-and-get," rarely results in any long term change and only resonates to a certain level. It also takes educators out of the classroom.

"By having Learning Leads working side by side other teachers at each school, teachers learn and retain more, the quality of instruction is enhanced and the level of teacher isolation is eliminated. In addition, professional development is consistent across the District, which reduces disparities in the resources each school has to provide professional development during the school day.  

"Several of our school sites have not had time built in for PD during the school day. The CSI & TSI elementary schools and all middle level schools will finally have the PD support they've desired.  We started the first phase of this work by selecting schools that have been identified by the State as needing improvement so that over half of the cost will be paid with a portion of district wide Title I dollars.

"These dollars can only be used for supplemental supports and can't supplant other positions like counselors, social workers or nurses.

"This investment in our teachers is consistent with goals set forth in the District's strategic plan, SPPS Achieves, which is designed to bring about positive change in student achievement."

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers, the union that represents teachers in the district, also declined an interview request, but issued a statement of its own expressing concern.

"As educators, we value ongoing, high-quality professional development," the statement read. 

"As professionals who spend our days in classrooms dedicated to the success of our students, we are, by nature, reflective on our craft - and committed to identifying how we can improve to best support our students. For us, the commitment to the schools Saint Paul students deserve is more than a tagline - it is a core value.

"Based on our daily classroom experiences, we know that right now our students do not need yet another layer of administration that has no student contact. We need to invest in our students by providing them what they need: smaller class sizes, bilingual staff to connect with families, school counselors, social workers, school psychiatrists, and nurses.

"We appreciate that SPPS shares our commitment to equity, and that they have identified additional funding for positions to help achieve these goals. However, uniformity is not equity, and these top down staffing decisions are missing the mark. We encourage SPPS to listen to parents, educators, and students and use this funding in a way that best suits the unique needs of each site."

KSTP asked Wellington, who now teaches at Washington Middle School, if she thought SPPS had been straightforward with everyone about its plans for the learning leads.

"No, not all," she replied.

St. Paul School Board Chair Zuki Ellis did not return several phone calls, emails and text messages seeking comment on the matter. School Board Vice-Chair Steve Marchese declined comment and referred KSTP to SPPS for further comment.

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Jay Kolls

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