BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
Amid proposals for grade reconfigurations throughout Osseo Area Schools, the district’s school board has decided to return three elementary schools to a pre-2008 structure.
On Jan. 28, the school board approved recommendations to transition Fair Oaks, Cedar Island and Oak View Elementary schools to a K-6 grade structure, which would match the other elementary schools in the district.
Cedar Island and Fair Oaks are pre-k through 3rd grade schools, and Oak View is a 4th-6th grade school. The district’s 14 other elementary schools are pre-k through 6th grade.
The structure of the three schools was designed in spring 2008, when the district closed and repurposed schools because of significant budget reductions, said Assistant Supt. Kim Riesgraf.
“This boundary recommendation returns almost all areas to their school of assignment prior to the change in 2008,” Riesgraf said.
The decision to change the three schools precedes the school board’s consideration of a district-wide grade change that would make elementary schools pre-K through 5th grade, current junior high schools 6th-8th grade and high schools 9th-12th grade.
Fair Oaks, Cedar Island and Oak View elementary schools would transition into 5th grade structure if the district-wide change is approved.
During the Jan. 28 meeting, the school board also unanimously approved the reassignment of one group of houses from North View Junior High School to Maple Grove Junior High School.
The district-wide and elementary school grade reconfiguration proposals occurred after the state legislature approved all-day kindergarten funding for Minnesota school districts beginning next fall.
Expanding all-day kindergarten has been a priority for the district since 2007, Riesgraf said.
“State funding for all-day K is a significant positive development for all students in Minnesota and it presents both opportunities and challenges,” said Riesgraf.
Early childhood learning increases school readiness and helps close the achievement gap, she said, while finding space to fit all-day kindergarten programming is the challenge.
Two half-day kindergarten classes can share one room, but full-day kindergarten needs its own. The district would have to add 18 more classrooms in 2014-15 for all-day kindergarten, Riesgraf said.
The need for additional space initiated the district’s analysis of the district’s entire grade structure and its possible shift to a 9th-12th grade high school model.
School board members and administrators have heard from community members regarding the overall grade change, and will consider a vote on the matter next month.
During public discussion about shifting the three elementary schools’ grade configuration, there were two proposals – which have since been withdrawn – that led to emails, calls and feedback from parents and community members during public input sessions.
These proposals addressed overcrowding at Basswood Elementary School. First, the district had proposed re-assigning houses in one census area to Oak View Elementary School.
After the district and school board members received feedback from community members about the plan, the school board requested an additional meeting to consider its options for addressing the overcrowding.
Rather than move one census area, it then considered relocating Basswood open enrolled students to Oak View.
After more public input, that proposal was also dropped, and no Basswood Elementary School reassignments will occur next school year. However, the district will keep Basswood closed to new open enrollment students, Riesgraf said.
To address Basswood space issues, the district will develop a short-term plan to address overcrowding, and will spend the coming months developing a long-term plan to address the issue, Riesgraf said.
Chad Wieneke, who would have been affected by the Basswood census area change, said the take-home message is parents are thankful that the administrators and school board listened to community feedback, but parents are still concerned about how the district will address potential overcrowding at other schools amid the grade reconfiguration considerations.
During the school board meeting, Board Chair Teresa Lunt said she hopes community members realize that proposed changes are merely considerations, not final decisions.
“It’s not a done deal until we are able to evaluate the feedback and help it inform our decision making,” she said.
If the school board decides to approve the district-wide grade configuration proposal, overcrowding at elementary schools would be relieved, she said.
If the school board does not approve the district-wide reconfiguration, board members know there will be further work to add space to elementary sites, and it would require additional boundary changes, she said.
The school board is scheduled to discuss, but not vote on, the district-wide grade change during a meeting Feb. 10.
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