GATE (Gifted and Talented Education)

A couple years ago, RPS  didn’t have enough sixth grade classrooms for gifted (G)  and highly gifted (HG) students who had been identified in fourth grade in preparation for middle school placement.  I am proud to have been a strong supporter of the additional classrooms, teachers and resources to meet their educational needs at Kellogg and Willow Creek. 

So who exactly are G and HG students? Oftentimes people think they are the  “really smart kids” who can do just fine on their own and don’t need different kinds of resources.  These students have the same challenges (and often more) as their peers in navigating their years to adulthood. 

Nationally, gifted students are in the top 5% on nationally normed tests.  In Rochester, 15% of all students are in the top 5% of those tests, and 1-2% are HG. Some G and HG students are twice exceptional (2E): that is,  G or HG plus any disability.  (ADD, ADHD  and dyslexia are often common.) These are the kids who are most likely to fall through the cracks; our program doesn’t start soon enough and go fast enough.

The teachers who work with our gifted students do a tremendous job with the time and resources available to them, and I applaud them for their efforts.

There are multiple criteria apart from standardized test scores, including portfolios, writing prompts, and evidence of other work to identify G and HG students.  This is critically important in order to identify historically underrepresented students, those with learning disabilities and/or those who don’t test well.  I remain committed to providing the resources necessary for their success.

GATEway Science Fair

Every year, elementary students in grades three through six can participate in the GATEway Science Fair which occurs in February.  Each project is reviewed by at least three scientists or researchers.  The student explains the project to each reviewer who will  ask questions about the project and engage in constructive conversation.  At the end of the fair, the student receives a written review sheet from each reviewer.  There is also a presentation from the Minnesota Science Museum that students attend.

This is intentionally not a competition.  The purpose is to introduce the student to hands on experience in the scientific method, to meet a scientist, and to stimulate their interest in science.  Registration is through Community Education and there are about a dozen community and business partners that sponsor the fair. Additionally, there are many volunteers who do all the advance preparation and new helpers are always welcome!

The 30th annual fair will be on February  23, 2019 in the Gonda Building.  You may not see me there, but you will hear me since I have the privilege of being the “voice” of the fair, making the announcements to keep it running on time!  

This is another wonderful example of community members working together for the benefit of our students!

When we all work together, we all do better.




School Security ……. and more

School security…..

Rochester Public Schools received funding from the Minnesota Department Safety Grant for additional school security:

$28,000 for a door alarm system at Rochester Area Learning Center

$60,000 for a door alarm system at Ben Franklin elementary school.

A visitor to a Rochester Public Schools building is buzzed in after stating their name and purpose for being there. The visitor then is admitted to the office and presents a valid photo ID.

These kinds of barriers go only so far in building security. Students are being taught not to open an outside door to let someone in and bypass the front entrance. (Open campus at the high schools makes security more challenging but there are more barriers in place this yaer.)

……..and more

Inside the school, students face challenges that can contribute negatively to their sense of safety and wellbeing. Many of these challenges do not originate in the school environment, yet are contributors to success (or lack thereof) in school.

Food insecurity.  RPS partners in the backpack program so students have food on the weekends.

Homelessness/students in transition. Some of our older students may “couch surf,” staying with friends because they cannot go home for a multitude of reasons. RPS partners with Social Services to help these students be secure outside of school.

Alcohol/drug addiction. RPS partners with public health and other agencies in assisting students. They may not have health insurance or adequate insurance, or understand the assistance system.

Abuse. Parents, other family members or guardians who are abusive (emotionally, physically and sexually); perhaps not coping well with their own substance abuse; unemployed/unemployable, etc.

Mental health. Every year there are more students who need mental health services as well.   Over several decades of teaching I saw an increase in students who were struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, depression and loss of hope.

Teachers are trained to detect some of the warning signs of mental illness, especially those that indicate a danger of harm to others or self. We need more mental health professionals and counselors available to students, in and out of the school setting.

Our students are the future and the schools are charged with providing all students with a world-class education. If mental health and other issues are not addressed and at least mitigated, their academic and future success is in jeopardy.

It takes a community – the schools can’t do it alone. I’m encouraged by the current partnerships and look forward to increasing community involvement so that our students can be the best they can be.

Their future is dependent on us, now.

And our future is dependent on them, then.

We  all do better working together!

To Build or Not to Build?

The City of Rochester is growing. Enrollment in Rochester Public Schools is growing. Five elementary schools have exceeded 100% capacity, five more are between 95%, and 100% capacity, and an additional five are between 92.8% and 95% capacity. It is clear that additional space will be needed to accommodate our students.

The District also works with the city of Rochester to pinpoint areas of growth and development in order to plan intelligently.

In 2014 the Board closely studied these patterns of growth and capacities with Teamworks International  and concluded that no action was needed at the time. TI recommended that we revisit it every two to three years, which we have done.

Over the last year, it was clear that our elementary school buildings in particular were approaching or past capacity. Thus, the  Board directed the Superintendent to convene a task force (of district staff and community members) that is working with LHB Consultants.

Once the task force and LHB have completed the work and presented its final report and recommendation(s) to the Board, we will deliberate on these findings and make a decision on running a referendum.  In the meantime, the public and the Board are receiving ongoing updates from LHB and the co-chairs of the task force.  

It is clear that additional space is needed. The how, where and when are yet to be determined by the Board. I will use the same thorough, thoughtful approach in making this decision as I do in every decision that comes before the Board. 

Teamworks International:





Platform and Focus


*Equity is a lens through which all decisions should be made

All students are ready for kindergarten.

Graduates are prepared for career and/or post secondary education.

All students and staff are treated equitably and with respect.

Foster a school climate in which students and staff are nurtured and safe..

*Family and community engagement and effective partnerships are essential to achieving our vision for student success.

*Students play a critical role in their learning.

* From the Graduate Profile

Specific areas  of continued focus

Continue and expand professional development, strategies and practice in culturally responsive teaching.

Ensure that all students read at grade level by third grade, and continue to progress.

Evaluate programs and initiatives for their effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes well before the budget is developed.

Encourage and support innovation and collaborative decision making with staff and administrators in each building.

Develop an intentional framework to increase School Board effectiveness, cohesiveness and function.

Expand community engagement.

                     We all do better when we all work together for students.

City Comprehensive Plan and Schools


Over the past several years I’ve had a few informal conversations with the superintendent and a city colleague about the possibility of a downtown school someday, perhaps in conjunction with Destination Medical Center. 

If it were to be seriously considered, my vision of a downtown school would be to sustainably serve the community without large transportation expenses. Ideally, it would also share functions with other entities that would save money with initial cost and ongoing operations. Since there isn’t a lot of build-able land (and green space is important for the health of a city), other issues such as housing density would also have to be considered.

Although I have not seen the new City Comprehensive Plan, I know my input was provided and maybe one day it will be a reality.

Educationally, some of the major barriers would be with MDE requirements since this would likely be a non-traditional proposal were it to be considered .

Creativity through the arts (in my case, music) has taught me to engage in “off the wall” thinking and this is important in considering how to meet the educational needs of our 21st century learners.

Special Education

Rochester Public Schools receives State and Federal dollars which partially fund Special Education.  The remaining funds come from the General Fund of the School District, which is the bulk of the budget.

If the State and Federal governments were to fully fund Special Education, Rochester Public Schools would receive about $18M additional funding annually.  If we received full funding as promised from these entities, there would be no need to levy residents for additional funding.

A student must be evaluated in order to receive Special Education services.  If the student is eligible, the parent or guardian must agree to the services.  If the parent chooses not to receive services then the student remains in general education.

Special Education costs have increased locally, statewide and nationally.  There is more awareness of autism, 504 plans are broader, mental illness is more prevalent, as well as students who are physically fragile.

The Minnesota School Boards Delegate Assembly (of which I am an elected member) represents school boards statewide and convenes annually to bring forth resolutions to the State Legislature on behalf of Minnesota students.   Special Education funding is one of the top issues throughout the state. We will be meeting in November and December in advance of the 2019 legislative session which begins in February, 2019.

Julie Workman for School Board Seat 4

Welcome to my website! I have posted blogs on subjects that are interesting and important to me and my work on the School Board and I hope they are informative. If you have any suggestions for additional blogs, please contact me.

I am currently working on two additional blogs; one on equity and one on budget and finance.

This is a bare bones website, and I have had to learn to use the tool as well as create the content. Like me, it’s down to earth, not slick, and intended to encourage engaging and productive conversation. I remain committed to listening to all perspectives from the Rochester community.