Star News » Opinion The Star News covers community news, sports, current events and provides advertising and information for Elk River, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman, Minnesota and their surrounding areas. Sun, 21 Dec 2014 09:53:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Letters from Readers: Better ways to address frustration Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:00:58 +0000 In the countless commentary concerning the Michael Brown case and alleged police injustice, two commentaries deserve considerable merit.

The first is a video presented by the late nationally syndicated Paul Harvey. I have seen nothing that addresses and defines policemen better than this video. Paul Harvey states in his speech that “less than one-half of 1 percent of policemen misfit that uniform.” If readers and listeners have not seen this video, I urge them to Google Paul Harvey “Policeman” on their electronic devices.

The second is a Letter to the Editor in the Anoka County Union Herald (December 5) written by Steven Johnson, a retired law enforcement officer. In my opinion, Mr. Johnson hit the nail squarely on the head in his letter. Others may disagree. I would like to reiterate one of his paragraphs as follows:

“We heard the president say, ‘We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.’ What needs fixing? America needs fixing! We are a nation that is systematically removing God from every facet of public life, thereby nurturing a growing lack of respect, poor values and blurring right and wrong. God help us.”

I for one frown upon the protest marches that I see on national and local television news. Although “peaceful” protestors’ voices may be intended to express frustrations and need for change, there is too often disruption of law enforcement resources, vandalism of properties and in worst cases — anarchy on the streets. Do these protest marches really represent the wishes and beliefs of most Americans? I would suggest that if protestors really want to enforce change, that they consider a more positive approach by volunteering their services to support police departments in their localities. Many such volunteer positions that will greatly benefit the citizenry can be found on the internet. — Robert Burtness, Elk River

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Letters from Readers: Thank you for three decades of your service Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:00:51 +0000 In this season where we give and receive gifts I want express my appreciation for the gift of Brad Rolfe, our Chief of Police who is retiring on December 30, 2014. Brad Rolfe has served the people of Elk River well for 33 years as a member of an honorable and often times under appreciated profession.  Since November of 2010 Brad has been a remarkable Chief of Police who has served us with compassion, integrity and honor. Thank you Chief Rolfe and we pray God’s richest blessings on you in the years to come. — Rev. Paul Johansson, Elk River

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Editorial cartoon for Dec. 20, 2014 Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:00:30 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Dec. 20, 2014

Editorial cartoon for Dec. 20, 2014

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Letters from Readers: Tired of outcry that police are an enemy Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:00:14 +0000 I have completely had it with this outcry that police are the enemy, and that they look to commit atrocities on a regular basis.

The United States has almost one million police officers who put on their uniform everyday to protect us, and I am grateful for each one of them. On average, one will die in the line of duty every 58 hours. Yes, every once in a while one will make a grievous error, but I believe it is because of what they deal with day in and day out. They have to make split-second, life-or-death decisions, and the garbage they face on the job has an effect on which decision they make.

Those of you who feel such sympathy for ‘innocent’ lives lost at the hands of police officers make me nauseous. Where is your outcry for the police officers who have sacrificed their lives to protect you from these same thugs? Why aren’t you howling about the atrocity of genocide in other countries, where people are literally massacred in brutal ways? Why aren’t you ranting about victims of violent crime?

How about the little baby that has a scissors jammed in at the base of its skull as it is being delivered? Why aren’t you wailing about justice for that life? Then there is Pastor Saeed Abedini. He is incarcerated in a prison in another country being beaten to the point of death, while his wife and two little children sit over here helplessly begging our administration to aid in his release.

You think it is so unfair that unarmed thugs die at the hands of police. Unfair is a four year old with cancer, not a drug-dealing robber who provokes police and gets shot. There are many injustices and atrocities in this world for us to fight against, but our men and women in the police force are not among them. — Brenda Morrell, Elk River

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Editorial cartoon for Dec. 13, 2014 Mon, 15 Dec 2014 21:34:00 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Dec. 13, 2014

Editorial cartoon for Dec. 13, 2014

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From the Editor: It’s time to dive into adapted athletics; Elk River has been idle while state has led the nation in creating options for disabled Thu, 11 Dec 2014 22:36:24 +0000 Activities directors for high schools in Elk River, Rogers and Zimmerman have expressed an interest for dipping their toes in the water of the wonderful world of adapted athletics by the start of the 2016-17 school year.

That’s great news, but with the addition of gym space coming in a couple of parts of the school district, thanks to the recently approved referendum, it might be time for more of dive-head-first approach.

Minnesota leads the nation in adapted opportunities for cognitively and physically disabled youth, but District 728 has been idle on this front for the past three decades while school districts across the metro have developed successful three-season models that band high schools and their athletic programs together to make it happen.

District 728 activities directors will be back before the Elk River Area School Board on Monday to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future of their departments and programs. They are fresh off a comprehensive study that looks at all aspects of their operations and answers the questions about how they can improve. They presented that in August, and now they have begun sharpening their pencils on associated costs of their vision.

The idea on the table is to consider a bowling program, which does not require any dedicated school space. It requires a neighborhood bowling alley. This could be the Elk River Area School District’s first foray into adapted athletics. It would be a good move.

Bowling is being considered elsewhere in the state for youth on the autism spectrum. Many of these children and teens have an IQ higher then than the cut-off for cognitively impaired athletic programs sponsored by the Minnesota State High School League.

But it would not be the best move. District 728 high schools would miss out on many of the benefits that adapted athletics have had on school culture elsewhere when the programs are folded into the existing high school program.

The biggest initial roadblock can be designating valuable indoor space for adapted athletics, but after talking with activities directors and coaches in Maple Grove and Centennial, it can be done.

There are also cooperative programs in the north metro and beyond Anoka-Hennepin, Mounds View, Buffalo, Stillwater and St. Cloud. With the passage of the November bond referendum and some new gym space coming online, there’s a window of opportunity to strategically shuffle the deck that will vanish as programs move in and take ownership over the new (and existing) spaces.

“It’s always hard to find space,” said Lambert Brown, the activities coordinator for Maple Grove High School. “It’s hard to find space for everything.

“The basketball program would like to never have to move out of its (normal) practice space, but we work with everyone. Adapted sports is a worthwhile program, so we make it work.”

For District 279, that means Maple Grove houses adapted floor hockey in the winter. Osseo High School houses (indoor) adapted softball played with a whiffle ball in the spring. And Park Center, houses indoor adapted soccer in the fall. It actually works out great that way for the athletes, according to their coach Kelli Waalk-Gilbertson.

“(The athletes) all get one season at their home high school,” she said. “That’s a really cool thing for the athletes and the school.

“It has such a positive impact at each high school and has created some really neat connections with students and staff.”

The adapted athletics programs are routinely recognized for their accomplishments at pep fests, helping typical athletes become fans of disabled athletes and disabled athletes be better fans of typical varsity sports teams.

At Centennial, the North Suburban Cougars were the star of a pep fest a couple of years ago when its cooperative team featuring Centennial and Spring Lake Park won the adapted floor hockey state title.

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education for the U.S., released guidelines last year that require schools to make reasonable accommodations to ensure all students, regardless of disability, have equal access to sports programs in the schools.

The idea of adding adapted bowling might get the district’s toes wet, but the diving-in approach might actually be the more effective way of getting into it. And disabled athletes should not have to wait another decade for adapted athletics to take root in their schools.

Minnesota’s push started in the 1970s — without the hand of the federal government directing them. Parents, coaches and administrators in this state ramped up the efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s and pushed for adapted athletics to be recognized by the Minnesota State High School League. They did in 1992.

There are now separate divisions for those with cognitive disabilities and those with physical disabilities to ensure an even playing field. There are more than 1,700 registrations in a season throughout the state — more than doubling the registration numbers since 1994.

Playing sports at any level — club, intramural, or middle school and high school interscholastic — can be crucial for the success of students’ academic careers. That is true for the disabled as well. It promotes socialization, the development of leadership skills, focus, and, of course, physical fitness. Start-up costs will be a challenge, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Centennial High School has been involved in adapted athletics for more than two decades. Brian Hegseth, the activities director, said the program was just getting started when he arrived in the district.

It was a 1991 proposal that emanated at a Fridley school that got it going. It created a four-team cooperative for students cognitively impaired between the high schools in Fridley, Columbia Heights, Spring Lake Park and Centennial. They were the North Suburban Tigers, and their colors were black and gold.  Then in 1994, the cooperative group moved into the Minnesota State High School League for competition, Hegseth said.

Columbia Heights and Fridley dropped out from the cooperative, but Spring Lake Park hung on and they are paired to this day. The combined team became the North Suburban Cougars, featuring red and white uniforms.

They get about 15-16 athletes a season. The players range from high functioning to fairly low functioning cognitively.

“It’s amazing what the program does for our school,” Hegseth said. “It’s a varsity sport, and our student body is fabulous with these kids.”

Centennial High School takes advantage of a former junior high to offer the program. One head coach and two assistants lead all three teams.

It’s time for District 728 — Elk River, Rogers and Zimmerman high schools — to take the plunge. — Jim Boyle, editor

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Letters from Readers: Do you say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas; writer says she likes to be able to say the latter Thu, 11 Dec 2014 22:34:03 +0000 We are now in the period of time that is now called the holiday season. As you all know I am old fashioned, outdated and have a problem conforming to the new world ideas. A holiday in England is equivalent to our vacation.

I believe in the United States at this time of the year it is meant to include Christmas and the New Year. This time of the year we are preparing for Christmas, so the greeting “have a merry Christmas” is very appropriate.

For our Jewish friends it is Happy Hanukkah. For the rest of the population I am sorry, but I don’t know your faith and for the most part I wouldn’t be wishing you anything. Sorry about that.

Christmas is what it is. It is celebrating Christ’s birthday and is not just a holiday.

It seems to me that someone out there is making a mountain out of a molehill. Merry Christmas to my Christian friends, Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends and Happy Holidays to the rest of you. —Lola Driessen, Elk River

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Viewpoint: Girls setting the achievement bar; Boys lag in classroom motivation, Stillwater Superintendent says Thu, 11 Dec 2014 22:28:38 +0000 A Stillwater school superintendent is asking a big question: Why do high school girls do better in the classroom than high school boys?

Tom Nelson, who has been a superintendent for 20 years, recently wrote a guest column in the Stillwater Gazette that has some parents buzzing. He asked: What will it take to motivate the boys to do better in the classroom – at least as well as or better than the girls?

Since writing the column, he’s had a dozen responses, one disagreeing, but most parents agreeing they are noticing a lack of motivation in some of their boys.

Recently, Nelson went to a high school assembly where students were awarded academic letters. He couldn’t help but notice that a higher percentage of girls merited those letters than the boys. In fact, 60 percent of the girls merited letters compared to 40 percent of the boys.

He has some data on the class of 2010-2011. His district assessment coordinator found what he called a “motivational gap.” He studied students’ GPAs, Advance Placement courses, class ranks, academic awards, leadership and the top 25 percent of scholars. He concluded female students outperformed the male students.

Nelson cites one study by Allie Grasgreen who reviewed a book called “The Rise of Women.” She notes that in 1970, 20 percent of men finished college and only 14 percent of women. In 2010, however, 27 percent of men finished college, an increase of 7 percent, while 36 percent of the women graduated – an increase of 22 percent.

The superintendent threw out the question to the community: What can be done to motivate the boys?

Reaction to Nelson’s question from educators contacted for this column is mixed. Most high school principals don’t want to touch the topic, citing a lack of data.

Andy Beaton, Kennedy High School principal in Bloomington, said this year the number of leaders and scholars is split between the boys and girls. Over the five years he’s been principal, however, he is finding that the girls are taking tougher courses and aiming to be leaders.

So what’s with the boys? Some say the comparison is not surprising, since girls mature faster than boys and do their homework. Boys, on the other hand, have other things to do.

One recent high school girl graduate opined that girls try harder to get better and higher salaries because they’ve been told they have to to get ahead in the corporate world.

A retired teacher noted that girls do their homework more than boys, who don’t always see the need.

Steve Fitzhugh, a motivational speaker and former National Football League football player, recently spoke to dads of Bloomington Kennedy High School students at a forum, “Inspiring Male Leadership.”’

“There are so many distractions for our boys,” he said. “The culture today tends to celebrate greatness (in sports). True greatness is to be a student athlete with the emphasis on student. … If the curriculum fails, then the extra disappears. That’s why it is extra; curriculum is primary.”

The bottom line focuses on the parents. When parents get involved and insist that their boys do their homework and aspire to be leaders, they can achieve and lead as well as the girls. — Don Heinzman  (Editor’s note: Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers Inc.)

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ECM Editorial: Faults aside, don’t scuttle MnSCU’s visioning process Sat, 06 Dec 2014 13:00:52 +0000 The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) has initiated an important planning and visioning process that will benefit Minnesota post-secondary students for many generations. If you have a son or daughter who may someday attend a state college, this planning process is very important to you. If you are a Minnesota business of any size and rely on trained, well educated employees for the success of your business, this planning process is important. If you are a citizen/taxpayer committed to an excellent Minnesota, this planning process is important.

The planning process called “Charting the Future,” developed by the MnSCU Board of Trustees and Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, addresses key issues for the future of our state colleges and outlines a process for engagement of students, staff and administrators.

The engagement process has come under serious challenge from the faculty as well as some student groups. They have voiced a vote of “no confidence” in the chancellor. Lack of openness on two issues: the chancellor’s contract and a consulting contract with McKinsey & Company associated with the development of the process, both of which seem to have been approved with inadequate public view, are included in the complaints.

Openness in government, including post-secondary public schools, is an essential right of the public and these two incidents need to be addressed by the board of trustees, assuring the public that this will not be the way they intend to operate in the future.

A third grievance voiced by the faculty gets closer to the “change issue.” There is a belief that the weight of participation is leveraged toward administration and trustees at the expense of faculty. The structure and the names of the participants as well as the issues to be addressed by several of these groups can be found on the MnSCU web page ( There may be issues of proportionate representation on different teams. However, our understanding is that these are “deliberative” groups, not voting groups.

Ultimately, the only group vote that will count will come from the MnSCU Board of Trustees and possibly the Legislature, either in an overall action or through individual pieces of legislation.

If there is a need to adjust the process it should address a fairness of listening and an assurance that the board of trustees can hear and does listen to all MnSCU constituents.

That listening will not necessarily constitute agreement but the ultimate actions of the trustees should be accompanied by a reflection of the opinions heard and the rationale for the action taken in light of those opinions. In this regard we have a suggestion as well.

We aren’t aware of a meaningful listening post for the parents of future MnSCU students. They and their sons and daughters will attend MnSCU schools under the effects of “Charting the Future.” The process could use a communications loop into the parents and families in our K-12 schools.

There may be a key issue at the base of the staff vote of “no confidence” that goes beyond participation and openness. Change elements focused on efficiency, quality of service, duplication of course and program offerings, empowerment of technology, affordability of tuition and future employment. All have an impact on the faculty but don’t necessarily improve their job security. Dismissing faculty concerns out of hand is neither productive nor wise; however, faculty reaction in part may reflect institutional pushback to the needed change. Trying to achieve meaningful change and maintaining the status quo isn’t going to work.

In the long run “Charting the Future” must be a continuous, on-going process of renewal, not just an event. The programs and initiatives must be under constant review in the face of a quickly changing technological and economic world. The difficulties of this inaugural effort have to be resolved in support of a system with long term value.

Even now MnSCU has to address a huge diversity of learners and learning. It isn’t four years of college for everyone, or academic education for everyone, or professional education for everyone; there are many paths through the learning door. Not all learning must be directly job related and futurists have been telling us for years that the required job skills will change many times in a lifetime, and some learning must include general knowledge and self-renewal that empowers us to change and grow as that growth“Charting the Future” asks that these issues and several others be addressed. The current spate of communications difficulties threaten the success of MnSCU’s efforts and those difficulties need to be addressed. The goals of “Charting the Future” are too important to be sacrificed to process and implementation problems. – An opinion from the ECM Publishers Editorial Board

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Viewpoint: Three wise women who are helping youngsters Sat, 06 Dec 2014 13:00:37 +0000 Jeanne Krile, Angie Johnson and Lisa Gale are three wise women who are helping students and their families. Gale is a mother who asked important questions about Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options. Johnson and Krile are Minnesota Department of Education employees who responded swiftly to her questions and concerns.

Gale contacted me about six weeks ago when her family was informed that they would have to pay $135 for their youngster to participate in PSEO. That’s the law that allows 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students to take courses for free on college campuses, or via the Internet, if the courses are offered by a Minnesota college or university. According to state law, those courses are supposed to be free, including tuition, books and lab fees. State funds also are available to help students from low-income families get to the campus. MDE provides an overview of PSEO at

But the college where Gale’s youngster was taking PSEO classes notified the family that there would be a charge for two required workbooks the student would use during the class. Gale told me via email, “It is my understanding that there are a number of courses that use workbooks, so this will probably be an ongoing issue next year as well.”

My understanding was that all required materials in PSEO courses were supposed to be provided free to students. But perhaps I was wrong, so I checked with Johnson, MDE’s supervisor of High School to Postsecondary Initiatives. She responded within 24 hours, writing, “A postsecondary institution that receives reimbursement for the pupil may not charge that pupil for fees, textbooks or materials that are necessary for that course.” She also quoted language of the PSEO law. My experience with legislators is that they wanted PSEO to be an extension of public schools, where class materials are provided free, so all youngsters can participate.

Johnson also contacted Krile, of the MDE Division of School Finance, who responded immediately. She wrote: “A good rule of thumb to consider is the necessity of the item for a PSEO course. If an item is required for a course, it cannot be charged to a PSEO student. With that said, it is always the option of a postsecondary institution to offer the item for sale subsequent to the course ending (ex. knives, tools, etc.).”

Krile and Johnson told me that this issue has come up before, so MDE includes this in the PSEO Reference Guide, available at

The college Gale’s youngster attends via PSEO acknowledged the guidance from MDE and stated its intent to follow the law.

These three women deserve recognition and praise. Gale didn’t just shrug her shoulders; she raised a good question. Johnson and Krile are examples of true public servants; they were clear and responsive.

Because thousands of Minnesota high school students participate in PSEO, I thought this clarification was worth sharing.

Things don’t always turn out like this. Sometimes we (parents) are wrong. Sometimes government officials are not so responsive, or laws are not so clear. Some laws are not interpreted in ways that serve families, especially low-income families.

But in this case, three wise women worked together well. Thanks to each of them. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at

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