by Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
The District 279 School Board had much to consider after a week of input from parents and community members regarding school district proposals regarding schools’ grade changes.
After a week of community input sessions on three separate proposals, the school board pushed back one of its meetings so it could discuss the input before deciding on one particular proposal.
With funding from the state, the district will implement all-day kindergarten in the district’s elementary schools. In December, Supt. Kate Maguire presented two preferences to make the expanded programming fit in the buildings.
They include changing the district’s grade structure to a 9th-12th grade high school structure, which would match approximately 70 other districts in the state. The district currently has 10th-12th grade high schools.
Elementary and junior high schools would also shift their grade structure. Elementary would be pre-K through 5th grade, and junior high schools would be 6th-8th grade. Such shifting was Maguire’s preliminary recommendation to the school board, pending feedback from the community.
She and administrators also recommended switching the grade structure at Oak View, Cedar Island and Oak Point elementary schools to match the district’s other elementary schools.
The alternative to these recommendations was maintaining the existing pre-K through 6th grade, 7th-9th grade and 10th-12th grade structure.
If the existing grade structure remained, the district would consider expanding two elementary school buildings, which would cost an estimated $4 million, according to the proposal. Changing the grade structure would include an expansion to Osseo High School, which would cost $6.5 million, according to the proposals.
The grade reconfiguration would allow for more coherent academic and extracurricular programming, and better accommodate high school credit requirements, Maguire said.
The district has studied a possible grade configuration change twice before, but each time no compelling reason surfaced to make the transition, according to Maguire.
With all-day kindergarten, space needs would be a legitimate driver for that change, she said.
While these proposals are being considered, the district is also negotiating how to handle a projected overcrowding issue at Basswood Elementary School.
The district has proposed changing the school assignment for one area of houses, Census Area 284, in a southwest corner of the district that is mainly comprised of Plymouth residents. Administrators have proposed reassigning those residents from Basswood to Oak View Elementary School, which would alleviate Basswood’s projected overcapacity next school year.
These proposals – the district-wide grade restructuring, the three-school shift and Census Area 284 change – were discussed during public input sessions last week.
Based on the current school board meeting timeline, it could vote on realignment of the three elementary schools and the Census Area 284 reassignment before considering the overall grade change in late February.
During public input sessions and in emails to school board members and administrators, some residents of Census Area 284 expressed concerns about their reassignment to Oak View, while shifting three elementary schools’ grade structure has not been a big issue, according to administrators, Maguire and some school board members who attended meetings.
Parent Chad Wieneke said the Census Area 284 proposal happened fast, and there was no feedback sought from its residents before the reassignment recommendation was made.
He said he has not been in Oak View, and he has nothing against it. He and other residents selected the neighborhood largely because of the school assignments, he said.
“We were very deliberate about our home purchases and construction decisions,” he said.
Under the grade change and reassignment, it’s unclear where students will attend junior high school and high school, he said.
“What are the implications of this move now?” he said.
Open enrollment was also a concern shared during input sessions.
If Census Area 284 were reassigned to Oak View, residents in that area could not open enroll students back into Basswood, but students who live in an Oak View neighborhood and open enroll into Basswood Elementary could remain at Basswood.
This was proposal was intended to address overcrowding, School and Community Relations Director Barb Olson said.
Maguire said she wanted to allow community members to provide their feedback on all of the proposals before final decisions were made. She understood that residents were discouraged that many details were not included about the proposals, but she wanted to see if those proposals had merit before spending months gathering the details.
She said administrators were trying to manage what is best for 20,000 students, for long-term district success and for current residents and parents.
If the district does switch to a pre-K to 5th grade, 6th-8th grade and 9th-12th grade structure beginning in the 2015-16 school year, a tentative boundary adjustment proposal includes shifting approximately 400 students, in total, from Maple Grove Senior High School and Park Center High School to Osseo High School, according to the administrators.
Elementary school and junior high school boundaries would also need adjusting, but any specific reassignments would not be determined until January 2015, a clarification that the district made after a Jan. 13 community meeting, where approximately 200 residents shared multiple concerns, including which high schools their children would be attending under the proposed plan.
During another input session Jan. 17, parent Ben Bower, and others, asked if the decision for changing three schools’ grades could wait until after a decision was made about the districts’ overall grade change.
Maguire said she had not considered that, but she emphasized that she wanted to do the right thing, which would be considering that option, she said.
School Board members Teresa Lunt, Dean Henke and Jim Burgett said they were getting a lot of feedback from residents who did not think the open enrollment policy made sense, and they opposed moving Census Area 284.
“They’ve provided some real good feedback and options, and we need to consider those,” Burgett said after a Jan. 16 input session. “… I like not having to move the census area if we can avoid it. So, I need to know what the implications of that are.”
Having a discussion during a Jan. 21 work session would be a good opportunity to discuss that with the rest of the board, he said.
The initial timeline included a school board vote regarding the census area and three schools’ grade changes during a Jan. 21 meeting. Based on community feedback, Lunt asked for the Jan. 21 vote be delayed for further discussion, she said.
After Jan. 17 community meeting at Basswood Elementary about the census area shift, she said she could name three main discussion themes based on community members’ feedback: open enrollment policy, reviewing new options and communication.
“The work session is for us to discuss options,” she said.
Burgett stressed that each of the proposals and issues had to be considered carefully.
“These are important decisions,” Burgett said. “We do not take them lightly.”
(Editor’s Note: The Jan. 21 meeting occurred after this edition went to press. Our website, pressnews.com, and future print editions will include updates and more information regarding the districts’ consideration of an overall grade reconfiguration.)
Contact Paul Groessel at [email protected]