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By Wes Mader Community Columnist Nov 12, 2019

An Oct. 4 story in the Prior Lake American (“’Not where we want to be’”) reported what Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools leaders failed to publicly report earlier, that student Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments grades continue to decline.

Based upon data from the article, the number of students who met math standards dropped from 77 out of 100 in 2017 to 69 out of 100 this year. That’s a decline of 10% in just 2 years. Similarly, the number of students who met reading standards dropped by over 8% in the same two years. This ought to be a wake-up call that deserves more than a yawn from the School Board.

The American also reported our district was last in math when compared to five other districts with similar size and demographics. In a district generally considered affluent, this kind of result ought to warrant a sense of urgency to find out how we got here. However, it’s difficult to be optimistic when the article left the impression that the superintendent has board support to continue to stay the course. With declining grade performance over three to four years as reported in state records, changing direction seems more appropriate.

Student performance doesn’t decline for three or four years without cause. Something is wrong, and it’s not the teachers. Is it possible that changes to curriculum, class-room environment or the addition of other priorities is the culprit? The board (not a consultant with vested interest) should objectively determine what’s wrong, but will they?

Recent years have brought increasing emphasis on introducing social ideology into classrooms nationwide, apparently to promote social change. While there is ongoing debate without consensus about whether these so-called progressive changes are positive or destructive, our school district nevertheless jumped on board.

I understand the importance of offering a welcoming and inclusive environment to students, but most of the teachers I know or have known do this very well on an individual basis. Overloading and burdening teachers with multiple initiatives driven by outside consultants who offer slogans and metaphors (like student equity, whatever that means) may be the distraction that’s driving student academic performance downhill.

By happenstance, I learned details of some of these initiatives. I was concerned to the extent that I addressed two of the initiatives in a June 5, 2018, email to the board. The first involved the fact that our district administered a mandatory student survey asking sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders about sexual behavior, gender identity, suicide and other personal information without knowledge or approval of parents. In my opinion, this clearly violates state and federal law and the public trust.

The second related to introduction of a socially ideological program labeled CLR (Culturally & Linguistically Responsive) that was introduced into our district by consultant Sharroky Hollie. Hollie had already gained some notoriety with a similar controversial program introduced into the Edina district. Our Board chair said trend data for the program shows progress but offered no specifics. Falling MCA grades is not a trend that validates progress.

In a July 14, 2018, column in this paper, I spelled out details about the school district survey, and in a follow-up Oct. 6, 2018, column (“Is this education or indoctrination?”), I detailed concerns about the CLR program. I hoped these would motivate our School Board to have an open and objective discussion, but to the best of my knowledge, my concerns never made it into a board meeting.

The board needs to be reminded that teachers, not consultants, motivate students to achieve their potential. Teachers should not be bogged down with multiple demands in support of promoting social change that distract them from teaching academics. Not all district teachers are happy with the Sharroky Hollie or so-called equity program, nor are all parents happy about district administrators probing into their children’s sensitive personal behavior. Parents and teachers uncomfortable with these classroom initiatives should be heard, but are their voices being muffled?

In my opinion, it’s time for the board to openly discuss whether it’s appropriate for the district to be exposing children to controversial ideological social issues that may conflict with family values in a student’s home or if that domain should be left to parents. It’s time for the board to recognize that falling grades might suggest district policies are getting in the way of permitting dedicated and talented teachers from doing their best work. Staying the course doesn’t sound like the right answer.

Please read more from the Prior Lake America: https://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-falling-test-scores-are-a-wake-up-call-for/article_79949d29-4362-5d8e-976a-f24d8c838cf2.html

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

By Juan Macias Aug

The latest Gallup poll shows that immigration is the most important problem facing the U.S. today. This topic continues to polarize the American public, and it is front and center in regards to the 2020 presidential election. The argument lingers with both sides convinced that they are correct while fighting a toxic battle that lately has escalated to exchanges of inflammatory and very unpleasant messages. Yet the political red tape has not afforded any real solutions. This debate will persist to divide if we continue to fail to grasp the one thing that assures unity and makes immigration work: assimilation.

The multiculturalism and diversity that Americans once embraced has been sadly weaponized by those who shortsightedly disagree with the benefits of integration, assimilation and the overall notion of Americanization. Our current immigration system is broken not only because it lacks human and material resources. It’s fundamentally inoperable because we have neglected to embrace and implement that one thing that works. The genius of American culture has always been the capacity to take immigrants and turn them into Americans, the process by which many ethnicities, languages and religions become one under one flag.

I am a grateful part of this experiment and one that can speak from experience about the symbiotic gains that can result. Ironically, the system has hurt the very people it is trying to protect by allowing the impractical desire for political correctness to stand in the way of cultural adaptation and fusion.

Assimilation doesn’t mean that immigrants must surrender their religion, language, values, traditions, foods or festivities; it means that the guest should try to understand, respect and ultimately experience the culture of the host country, not the other way around. Assimilation doesn’t mean that you need to forget who you are or where you came from. It allows you to keep all those elements while affording you the wonderful process of experiencing a new culture and learning new traditions and idiosyncrasies.

I can tell you from experience that the process of integration is not always easy; it requires sacrifice, and there will be struggles as we step out of our comfort zone to learn something new. But the more you understand and accept the language, history and culture of the host country, the easier time you will have surviving and thriving as you become part of something bigger.

There is a magical moment that occurs in the life of a migrant when he or she starts to accept and actually enjoy their new normal, ideally reaching the ultimate goal of appreciating and loving this new home. You can become a U.S. citizen when you receive your naturalization certificate, but you only become an American when you genuinely start loving this country. I wish all immigrants will be able to reach such a grand goal regardless of which country they live in.

Immigration without assimilation is a recipe for disaster to the concept of having a unified nation working cohesively toward common goals. The folks on the left constantly reminds us that we are a nation of immigrants, failing to state the second half of the equation: immigrants who must assimilate and adapt to become one nation. If America becomes a country of non-assimilating immigrants, we will fail the wonderful idea of having a true melting pot. Instead we will end up with a country plagued with dissenting parallel societies with very little in common that become progressively intolerant of one another.

In Europe, immigration without emphasis on integration is delivering disaster. It will be less than smart for America to follow the same path.

I am convinced that the immigration-based weariness and reluctance that fuels a portion of the conservative population stems directly from the fact that many of the refugees and immigrants — who are very lucky recipients of this country’s kindness – don’t always choose to adapt or show appreciation and gratefulness for all they received, instead depicting a certain entitlement and even disgust towards the very country that has given them so much. Some of these folks have even become prominent politicians.

A related note about our very own Congresswoman Ilhan Omar: It is unfortunate that her career has started with so much drama and animosity while providing little or no value to the state or country. She was a refugee the U.S. protected by bringing her to this country and nurtured with housing, food, healthcare, education and endless opportunities. Her anger and condemnation toward traditional American values and its main ethnic group are repulsive. As an immigrant, I can tell you that she does not represent me despite her self-appointed title of being a champion for minorities and immigrants. In fact, as a member of those groups, I feel embarrassed by her ungrateful actions for a nation that has given her so much.

Our schools, colleges and other public institutions need to stop thinking that assimilation is taboo and that, by overprotecting a certain group or minority, we are actually helping them. We cannot afford the notion of immigrants becoming permanent tourists taking advantage of the sympathy and resources of this country while not participating or willing to adapt to its language, culture or traditions in the name of political correctness or a flawed understanding of inclusion. It is unrealistic and foolish to try to force a system where an immigrant that lives in Minnesota should behave, act and feel as if they are still in Somalia, Russia or Ecuador.

There are inherent responsibilities that a foreign national need to accept and embrace when they make the voluntary choice to come to this or any other country. Assimilation is the truest form of inclusion, and it has created the greatest multicultural society the world has ever seen. We should celebrate fusion rather than outlaw it. Let kids at schools celebrate Halloween again. Call Christmas by its name. Let’s be proud and safeguard our traditions while at the same time being receptive of new ones, and let’s allow natural adaptation to do what it does best.

After all, America is sustained by one simple truth: E pluribus unum (out of many, one).

Please read more from the Savage Pacer: https://www.swnewsmedia.com/savage_pacer/news/opinion/columnists/community-voices-immigrants-must-adapt-to-america-for-system-to/article_4477d7e0-2a12-59c0-ab73-1e62cdecea58.html

Juan Macias lives in Savage with his wife and two daughters and he works as an engineering manager for a defense company in the Twin Cities. He actively participates at the local government and is interested in education and STEM activities within the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District.

By Wes Mader Community Columnist Jul 10, 2019

Nexus, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools’ controversial consultant, has now been paid over $20 million since initial hiring — not a bad gig for a company that didn’t exist until hired by the district, but not good for taxpayers who foot the bill.

The controversial issue of school attendance boundaries has now been decided by a vote of four members of the School Board (seven members in total). Based upon news articles and numerous letters to the editor, it’s apparent not all parents are cheering the result. Unfortunately, the Board was faced with only win-lose options as a consequence of faulty management of open enrollment.

Like many political entities, the School Board and administration seem to operate on the premise that bigger is better without regard to unintended consequences. In spite of population growth that has continuously imposed space/facility problems, the Board majority seems oblivious to the impact of aggressive open enrollment.

To be specific, student population at the end of school year was 8,870, with 1,091 from outside the district. That exceeds 12% as compared to the 1% minimum allowed by state law. Districts with excess capacity are expected to welcome open enrollment. It’s unexpected when an overcrowded district (like Prior Lake-Savage) permits open enrollment to reach over 10 times the minimum. If the district had reasonably capped open enrollment, there would have been no need for an additional grade school nor the need to bus students who live within sight of an existing school to somewhere else.

District Finance Director Julie Cink regularly cites open enrollment as providing needed revenue while ignoring the fact that revenue created by open enrollees doesn’t cover the cost for their education. Records indicate it costs about $10,000 per year per student to operate our schools, with 70% of the revenue from the state and 30% from real-estate taxes. Since no real-estate taxes come with open-enrolled students, in-district taxpayers make up the difference. The revenue shortfall with 1,091 open-enrolled students is over $3 million.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your viewpoint), a significant number of students from our district enroll in other districts, leaving tax-dollars behind that partially offset the shortfall.

More than once I’ve heard financial executives in the business world jokingly say if you’re losing money on every single device you sell, you need volume to make it up. While intended as a joke, it’s apparently a fiscal strategy embraced at Prior Lake-Savage. One might wonder how much influence Nexus has had in evolving this strategy. Obviously open enrollment drives up the demand for additional facilities and increases Nexus fees.

For some, open enrollment is unfair to in-district students. Open-enrolled elementary students are allowed to list three schools as their preference, with school principals and administrators determining where they end up. In-district students are assigned to a school based upon where they live. While in-district students can apply to attend a school different from the one assigned, I understand options are quite limited, particularly given the number of parents unhappy with where their kids are ending up.

When in-district parents whose real estate taxes are used to fund education for out-of-district students appear to have less school choice than open-enrolled students, the fairness issue is understandable.

Allegations that the process for determining attendance boundaries was neither open nor transparent have been denied by Superintendent Teri Staloch. While I have no basis to offer an opinion about the allegation, what continues to be apparent is that the Board majority doesn’t seem much interested in minority members’ views. A lack of respect is often evident, with Board majority members limiting discussion to subjects they alone wish to discuss.

It’s my humble opinion that a requisite for representative governance is for the majority to demonstrate respect for those with whom they disagree. While mutual respect has all but disappeared in Washington, we ought to be able to do better locally.

While on the subject of respect, the Board majority and administration should demonstrate respect for all residents in the district. In a recent meeting, a teacher said, as though it was law and fact, that employees of the district are bound by law to tell the truth while citizen groups are free to lie. This was almost verbatim of what appeared in a district newsletter just prior to the referendum.

This attitude reflects disrespect to residents and well-intentioned groups alike. As long as it remains prevalent with some in district leadership, many residents will continue to believe they have no voice.

Please read more from The Prior Lake American:
https://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-prior-lake-savage-must-respect-all-board-members-district/article_1b769d11-08e9-5551-b0a1-171012f40d6a.html

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

By John Diers Jul 11, 2019

There are steam locomotives, and then there’s “Big Boy.” At 604 tons and 132 feet long and with a 4-8-8-4-wheel arrangement, it is the largest, most powerful steam locomotive in the world.

Twenty-five of them were built by the American Locomotive Company and delivered to the Union Pacific Railroad in 1941 and 1944 for service between Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Ogden, Utah, according to the railroad. Designed to pull long, heavy freight trains on stiff mountain grades, a Big Boy’s 6,000 horsepower was just as capable whether it was at 40 mph over the mountain or 70 mph on the flats. They were versatile locomotives. Union Pacific wanted to eliminate double-heading and helper locomotives, and these monsters did just that.

Christened Big Boy by workers at the American Locomotive Company, they moved millions of tons of freight over the Rocky and Wasatch Mountains until 1959, when they were replaced by cheaper diesel and gas turbine locomotives. Union Pacific kept them in reserve until 1961. Ten were eventually preserved for display. One of the 10, the 4014, has been restored and returned to service by Union Pacific.

Get ready. It’s headed for Minnesota.

I grew up around railroads and steam locomotives. They’re permanently and indelibly fixed in my childhood memories. When I stayed with my grandparents in St. Paul, I’d beg them to take me to Cleveland Avenue where it crossed the Milwaukee tracks so I could watch the afternoon Hiawatha behind its streamlined 4-6-4 blast through at 80 mph on the final leg of its journey from Chicago. I recall being invited in the cab of a locomotive at St. Paul Union Depot and touring the Union Depot Roundhouse.

At 5, the highlight of my young life, thanks to a family friend, was a cab ride with the engineer and fireman aboard a steam locomotive from St. Paul to Willmar on Great Northern’s Fast Mail. I’ll never forget it — especially the rocking motion as it hurtled along, the smell of steam and grease and coal smoke, the roar and the heat of the firebox and the whistle. My young ears and psyche were never the same until, on a family vacation, I saw a Big Boy start and move upwards of 120 freight cars from the yard in Cheyenne.

There were few diesel locomotives before World War II, but after the war, the electromotive division of General Motors started building them in great numbers. Even steam locomotive builders Lima, Baldwin and the American Locomotive Company (Alco) switched from steam to diesel locomotive production. The last production steam locomotive from an American builder was turned out in 1949 for the New York Chicago and St. Louis (Nickel Plate) Railroad.

Diesels may have lacked the color and personality of steam power, but their low operating costs and reliability saved the railroads millions of dollars and, likely, kept the industry out of bankruptcy.

The Union Pacific Railroad has a sense of history, and while it ended steam in regular mainline service in 1960, it kept one of it’s steam engines, a 4-8-4 built in 1944, on its active locomotive roster for excursions and special events. A second engine, a 4-6-6-4, was saved and returned to operation in 1981.

Big Boy 4014, on display at the Rail Giants Museum in Pomona, California, was removed from display in 2012 and moved to Union Pacific’s steam shop in Cheyenne for restoration and operation to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The event took place on May 10. Big Boy 4014 powered a special train from Cheyenne to Ogden for the occasion.

On Monday, July 8, it left Cheyenne for a second tour of the Union Pacific system and the Midwest. Its planned schedule calls for it to make a brief stop in Northfield, Minnesota, at 12:45 p.m. on July 17. It will be on display at St. Paul Union Depot on July 18, then in Duluth at the Duluth Railroad Museum on July 20. A complete and updated schedule and more information are on the Union Pacific webpage, up.com.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see this locomotive in operation for the first time since 1959. It’s a septuagenarian alert. Chances are good it won’t ever happen again.

Please read more from The Prior Lake American:
https://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-mammoth-steam-locomotive-to-tour-through-minnesota/article_8f5a2b03-7bae-5e9d-9eed-ead19361debf.html

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.