Schools need creators, not complainers

Madsen, Hedlund among the former


Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

People like John Benson, Fred Easter, Mike Farley, Cam Hedlund, Dan Hoverman, Jay Haugen, Kathleen Mortensen, Linda Madsen, and Colleen Wambach are the correct side of what I think is the most important debate, of many in public education: The question is “Can we, right now, create a much more effective system for students and a much more satisfying system for educators?

Cam Hedlund and Linda Madsen defy what some believe – that district and charter educators are competitors, and as one district superintendent told me, “enemies.”  Hedlund, director of Lakes International Charter, and Madsen, superintendent of Forest Lake recently received a statewide award from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School and the Bush Foundation. It honors their collaboration. Madsen told me “it was an honor to receive this award.” They deserved it. Madsen and Hedlund recognize strengths of the district and the charter. They are using them to serve students.

Mounds View Superintendent Dan Hoverman and former Irondale High School Principal Colleen Wambach are helping students and families save thousands of dollars. They, and teachers in the district, created a program that allows a wide range of students at Irondale earn an Associate Arts degree while still in high school. Last year U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to Mounds View to praise and promote their efforts. Mounds View received no federal, state or foundation grants to redesign their high school. They used internal resources effectively.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has hired Wambach to help other public school districts and a charter public school do something similar. She’s working with Fred Easter, a deeply committed, insightful urban educator/community activist. (Full disclosure: MDE has asked my organization, the Center for School Change, to work with them.)

Three  of the educators with whom they are working are Kathleen Mortenson, Les Fujitake and Mike Farley. Mortensen directs the Brooklyn Center Area Learning Center. Fujitake is superintendent in Bloomington. Farley is the Anoka High School principal.  Each recognizes that many high school students are ready for more active engagement, and challenge.

Several years ago, Long Prairie Grey Eagle High School Principal Paul Weinzierl and Central Lakes College President Larry Lundblad created a program called “4+2”. This collaboration already has produced 30 students who earned “A.A” degrees before graduating high school.

John Benson, for more than 30 years a public school teacher, former president of the Edina Federation of Teachers, now is a Minnesota state representative. Benson, who represents Minnetonka and parts of western Hennepin County, was the chief Minnesota House author of one of the nation’s first “Self/governed/site governed “school laws.  Benson knows about the creativity and commitment of many classroom teachers. He’s glad that Minneapolis teachers and parents created a “site governed” French Immersion elementary school. Benson hopes many more school systems will encourage teachers and parents to create research-based, distinctive site-governed schools.

Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen and his colleagues have created a brief, YouTube video using cartoons to help explain the need for and possible features of “A New Design.” You can find it at

Sometimes I’m told, “They won’t let us…” “They” might be a school board, a superintendent, a union or a state department. Folks like those named above spend more time creating, less time complaining.  They move things ahead.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at [email protected]