Downtown School graduates first class

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June 16, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: sue rich
sue rich

The Interdistrict Downtown School was strictly Kindergarten through 9the grade when it moved into its 10 S. 10th St. home in 1999. But year- by- year, its high school has grown, adding a sophomore, junior and then a senior class. On June 10, the school held its first graduation, on the Downtown stage of Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave.

According to Lee Fertig, the school\'s director (equivalent to a principal), nearly all 24 graduating students have plans beyond high school, from joining the military to attending a four-year college.

The students also hail from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Diversity is the main attraction of the school, he said, drawing suburban kids into the city.

The magnet school is operated by the West Metro Education Program, a partnership of 10 school districts: Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Edina, Hopkins, Minneapolis, Richfield, Robbinsdale, St. Anthony-New Brighton, St. Louis Park and Wayzata. Students and teachers come from throughout the districts.

Fertig, who has been with the school two-and-a-half years, said it is built on the idea of \"voluntary integration,\" as opposed to the forced busing initiatives of the \'70s.

Many parents of Interdistrict students work Downtown, making it easy for them to connect with their child\'s school life. \"Parents come in all the time,\" said Fertig. \"One woman eats lunch with her second-grader in the cafeteria almost every day.\"

Another unique characteristic of the school, said Fertig, is its relationship with Downtown businesses and institutions. A writer from the Star Tribune has taught basic reporting skills, he said, while the crew from the Illusion Theatre has helped with dramatic productions.

Fertig said around 250 people watched the 24 students graduate - quite different from the typical football-field ceremony. \"And since we\'re not graduating 600 students,\" said Fertig, \"we [had] the opportunity to acknowledge the students individually.\"

Teachers and students told stories about the graduates, and there were performances including a prose reading by award-winning poet, photographer and Class of \'03 member Ashley Coleman.

Next year, Fertig expects Interdistrict\'s enrollment to reach 500 students. Still, class-size will remain low - one teacher per 21 students for elementary and high school classes, he said. Although the school, like others, has made cuts due to state aid reductions, he said the school has eliminated teacher\'s aides and administrative positions to maintain its teacher-student ratio.