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Star Tribune writers tracking education issue

Lakeville district proposes redesigning its alternative programs

The Lakeville school board is discussing a proposal that would move many students now enrolled off-site at the district's Alternative Learning Center (ALC) to "a school-within-a-school" at both Lakeville North and Lakeville South high schools.

An ALC is a high school program designed to meet the needs of students who, for social, emotional or academic reasons, haven't been successful in a traditional high school. About 70 students attend Lakeville's ALC, operated in a separate location on Howland Ave.

There are several reasons for the proposed change, district officials said, including a need to save money and provide access for ALC students to a wider range of classes.

In addition, there are already many programs and support systems in place at North and South that could serve current ALC students.

"We need to maximize the services to our students while guaranteeing we are not duplicating services," the proposal said.

Last year, the district's general fund subsidized ALC programming by $650,000. Other districts, however, are able to pay for their ALC programs without needing supplementary funding, the proposal stated.

When surveyed, ALC students also said they wanted better school lunches and to be able to pursue their interests through elective courses and activities.

The plan presented at the Nov. 19 meeting suggested integrating most of the ALC's current students into "on-site communities" at the high schools for the 2017-18 school year, using existing high school staff members. A few students with special situations would still be housed in an off-site location, the proposal said.

The new settings would still emphasize building strong relationships with staff and providing ALC students  with a safe space, said Renae Ouillette, Lakeville's executive director of student and special students.

Board member Michelle Volk said she was "sure we'll hear from parents" about the proposal.

The school board will discuss the plan further at the Dec. 15 school board study session.

Educators explore personalized learning spaces

Representatives from six states and 18 school districts converged on Chaska High School earlier this month to examine a new education trend: personalized learning spaces.

Industry experts at the conference encouraged educators to rethink school learning spaces and find models that work for students. Some are trying it with creative spaces and flexible furniture in classrooms and school-wide. Others are using creative class time to stretch boundaries.

Eastern Carver County Schools calls itself a leader in personalized learning, with spaces such as the Loft in Chanhassen High School. The Loft allows for students to get help, work in small groups or study independently.

The district is “using their school library media centers as the ‘sandbox’ to experiment and create flexible learning spaces that can impact every student,” according to a statement.

The conference turned some classrooms and spots in the Chaska High media center into experiment zones to try out equipment and receive student feedback on what helps them the most.

Brad Gustafson, principal at Greenwood Elementary in the Wayzata district, uses a fleet of carts in his school that transport collaborative supplies, such as knitting yarn and looms, cardboard construction and Legos. He presented at the conference about these mobile maker spaces.

“It’s still ALL about the kids,” Gustafson tweeted in a conference takeaway.