Schools Notebook: Details of enrollment plan in flux

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November 6, 2013
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
District staff is preparing "version 2.0" for enrollment plan for Nov. 12 School Board meeting

The plan for managing increased enrollment that Minneapolis Public Schools unveiled to the public in September is undergoing some changes.

District staff was preparing what LeAnn Dow, a member of the planning team, termed “version 2.0” of the enrollment plan for the Nov. 12 School Board meeting. Dow said board members were still expected to vote on a plan before the end of the year, but the likely date was now in December, not November.

Minneapolis enrollment is projected to climb nearly 3,400 students by 2017, which works out to 10-percent growth for the 34,000-student district. It’s formulating a response that involves renovating or expanding some existing buildings that are at or near enrollment capacity while also opening up new school programs.

The original proposal called for two new community schools and seven “schools of choice” — magnet programs and citywide high schools that enroll students from across the city. The district would also invest in an expansion of early childhood programs.

But the details of that plan were in flux after a series of community meetings were held across the district in October.

Changes

Dow said the pre-K–5 STEAM program (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) planned for the reopened Wilder building in Powderhorn Park was a “placeholder” program that could be refined through further community engagement. A small, audition-based citywide performing arts high school was supposed to share the Wilder building, but staff is reconsidering that proposal after some critical feedback, including parents who wondered whether it would drain the resources available to arts programs at the district’s traditional high schools.

“I’ll be honest, this is one we are having further discussion about,” Dow said.

They are just two aspects of the plan that could continue to develop even after a School Board vote.

That vote could amount to an endorsement of the plan’s goals while leaving some details to be determined, said David Dudycha, who serves with Dow on the planning team.

“They’re not going to vote on a total five-year program,” Dudycha said. “They’re accepting recommendations which then still have to go through another lens, particularly the ones that are still two and three and four years out.”

In an email, School Board Member Tracine Asberry said she’d be looking for “continued community engagement” as the plan develops over the next five years. 

Asking for a pause

The district’s enrollment issues are most acute in Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods, where nearly half of the predicted increase in students is expected to occur. District officials say it’s where a recent trend is strongest: More families are choosing to stay in Minneapolis rather than move to the suburbs, and more are choosing public schools for their children.

Staff aim to keep enrollment climbing by strengthening the district’s academic offerings, but they also want to avoid the kind of disruptive changes that come with redrawing attendance boundaries or breaking the pathways students follow from elementary to high school.

Dudycha described a two-pronged strategy: adding classroom seats where enrollment is strongest while also building attractive citywide options that entice some families away from over-subscribed community schools.

Ramsey Middle School offers a peek at Southwest’s booming enrollment. It opened with just a sixth grade class in the fall of 2012, adding a seventh grade this school year. It’s already at 400 students and had more on a wait list, Principal Paul Marietta said.

“I think the demand to come here is pretty high at this point,” Marietta said.

The district’s original enrollment plan called for joining Ramsey and adjacent Washburn High School in a 6–12 campus next school year. Washburn faces space constraints, and even with a full program next year, Ramsey will have unused classroom space.

Bridget McGinnis, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, said the pairing was a “no-brainer,” one supported by many of the parents. The schools are on the same city block, and stronger ties between the two schools could even allow some advanced middle school students to high school courses.

But Ramsey parents are asking for a pause.

“It’s just, to do anything for next year as far as adding ninth grade to our school, seems completely detrimental,” McGinnis said, adding that the school was “promised” three years to develop its program.

The still-new Ramsey program matures next school year when it adds an eighth-grade class for the first time. Many parents would like to wait until after the 2014–2015 school year to develop the collaboration with Washburn, McGinnis said.

It’s just an example of the tightrope walk that is enrollment planning in Minneapolis: As district officials prepare for additional students, they must be cautious of decisions that might reverse the trend.