Having become superintendent in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district last July, Joe Gothard spent the fall learning more about the district's history and values through many community meetings.
At a school board meeting earlier this month, he reflected on those interactions and made several recommendations.
"One of the things I'm recommending for the future is that we study the feasibility of new grade configurations," he said.
The district is one of a few in Minnesota with a high school serving grades 10 through 12, grades seven through nine in junior high and kindergarten through grade six at elementary schools.
Other metro-area high schools with this arrangement include Hopkins High School and Stillwater Area High School.
Having ninth-graders at the junior high is problematic for several reasons, he said.
It's hard to convince students that their ninth-grade year matters when they're stuck at the junior high, and the arrangement doesn't fit with the district's "cohesive and comprehensive four-year focus on college and career readiness," he said.
If a freshman struggles to transition to high school, they have four whole years to get on track, he said.
But "If that happens as a 10th grader, there's very little time to pick up the pieces," and to graduate on time, he said.
He added that the arrangement makes offering elective classes and extracurriculars more complicated, and that there are alignment issues with neighboring districts.
The new plan would also see sixth-graders move to middle schools.
He called for the district to continue to study the idea, and examine attendance boundaries when a decision is made on grade configurations.
He also recommended that the district not make any boundary changes for the 2014-15 school year, something they had planned to do in order to even out racial and socioeconomic imbalances.