Burnsville to consider school boundary changes

  • Article by: HER, AMP;#XF3;N M and AMP;#XE1;RQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 2, 2013 - 6:21 PM

To correct a racial imbalance at Sky Oaks Elementary, the school district is considering boundary changes or even merging two schools.

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Fifth-grader Jeremiah Jones raises his hand to answer a question during math class. Sky Oaks is made up of 73 percent minority students.

The Burnsville School District on Thursday is expected to approve a strategy to remedy the racial isolation of Sky Oaks Elementary, which state officials have spotlighted for having the highest nonwhite student population in the district.

The district must develop an integration plan for Sky Oaks by the middle of March as required by the state Department of Education, which last year noted that minorities are the majority of the student population at the elementary school.

Among other things, the district says it is considering changing attendance boundaries for the first time in 17 years.

The 600-student school has 73 percent students of color, while the district average is 50 percent. Being more than 20 percent above the district average is enough to trigger state intervention.

“The state just wants to make sure … that we are not doing anything purposely to isolate the school,” said Sandy Sweep, new chairwoman of the school board.

In December, the state notified Burnsville that the racial isolation at Sky Oaks was not the result of district policies or practices. But the Burnsville school board still must come up with a plan to better integrate Sky Oaks students.

“I think teachers and parents want to see something big done,” said Paul Berge, a teacher at Sky Oaks and a member of the committee coming up with recommendations for the school board.

Among the proposals being considered are boundary changes, merging with another school, enrichment programs, after-school opportunities and extended school days. All are intended to attract more white students to the school to balance out the racial mix at Sky Oaks and also close the achievement gap.

District officials said addressing the situation at Sky Oaks is part of an overall strategy to reorganize the district.

The district, for example, would like to figure out how to optimize the capacity of its buildings, some of which are over capacity and some of which are under capacity.

“There are some large issues that are being addressed across the district,” said David Bernard, the district’s director of instruction, who is helping to craft the integration plan.

Bernard said that the district wants to address the integration issues, but it also wants to find ways to improve student achievement and get parents more involved and aware of what is available.

Teacher support

The district approach has gotten the support of the Burnsville Education Association (BEA), the teachers’ union.

“I don’t see a lot that can be addressed that is not part of a broader reorganization,” said BEA President Bob Nystrom.

The district will consider school boundary changes and hold information sessions with the public to get feedback on the proposals, then submit recommendations to the school board in June. Earlier this year, Superintendent Randy Clegg proposed using Interstate 35W as a divider for the district.

At the same time, “Our magnet schools are popular,” Clegg said in a statement. “It makes sense to expand school choice.”

Sweep and others said it is obvious that changes need to be made at Sky Oaks and throughout the district to make resources and educational programs more evenly available.

“Doing something to even out the district would help,” Berge said. “Among teachers and community members, there are desires to make changes districtwide.”

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  • Sky Oaks fifth-grade math teacher and math interventionist Paul Berge worked with a group of students in his class Thursday. Berge is among a group working on recommendations for addressing Sky Oaks’ racial makeup. “I think teachers and parents want to see something big done,” he said.

  • Sky Oaks fifth-graders Hibaaq Mahamed, right, and Krystell Serrano, middle, follow math teacher Paul Berge into a classrooom. The district is looking at boundaries, a merger, enrichment programs, after-school ideas and extended days to achieve a better racial balance.

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