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'Superman' inspires discussion, ideas

Nearly everyone in the room put a hand in the air Wednesday night when asked if they've seen the documentary "Waiting for Superman," a movie that has inspired discussion nationwide about the U.S. educational system.

About 100 people gathered for a two-hour discussion at the Rochester Public Library hosted by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. Some said they watched the movie by director Davis Guggenheim more than once.

The goal of the discussion wasn't to find a "silver bullet" to fix all problems in the educational system, said moderator Jess Ihrke, but to encourage people to become more informed and engaged. The discussion included general impressions of the movie, dissection of specific points and ways to improve education locally.

State Sen.-elect Carla Nelson said strings attached to state and federal dollars needlessly complicate education efforts at the local level.

"Quite frankly, we need local control," she said.


Rochester Education Association president Kit Hawkins said greater local control over educational decisions would result in greater creativity, innovation and accountability.

"If we fall on our face, you know whose responsibility it is," she said.

One idea Hawkins put forward was expanding the 45 days on/15 days off schedule at the Longfellow choice elementary school.

"We have to be willing to come to a conversation together" on issues such as that, Hawkins said.

Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce president John Wade said ideas for improving education should come from around the world.

The Rev. Don Barlow of Community Baptist Church pointed to the Five-Year Plan the school district adopted under Superintendent Romain Dallemand in 2008. The community needs to help move the plan forward, not undermine or undo it, he said.

Chuck Handlon, a Century High School science teacher, said people need to figure out what changes are needed and what it will take to get there.

"We need to put together a price tag for the reforms that we want," he said.


The next step should be to make messages from "Waiting for Superman" more relevant to Rochester and find ways to improve education locally, said Ken Kurth of Rochester.

"This has been a wonderful forum to get people engaged and get them talking about solutions," he said.

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