New boundaries for Wayzata schools?

  • Article by: NICK WOLTMAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2012 - 11:22 AM

Heavier growth in the northern part of the district in Plymouth has created an imbalance of elementary and middle-school students there.

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Teacher Lisa Barnholdt worked with students at Plymouth Creek Elementary School in Plymouth, where two teachers and 36 third-graders use one room.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Wayzata school officials want to hear from parents in their district on how best to redraw enrollment boundaries for their increasingly crowded schools.

The district will hold three public meetings over the next two weeks, during which officials will present area residents with a handful of scenarios being considered to redistribute students among its elementary and middle schools.

This is the latest phase of an ongoing self-study intended to identify the causes and mitigate the effects of overcrowding in the district.

Jim Westrum, Wayzata schools' executive director of finance and business, says the problem is especially pronounced in the district's seven elementary schools.

While the district's 4,684 K-5 students do not exceed its maximum capacity of 4,806, they are unevenly distributed. Westrum said the pace of residential development in the northern half of the district has put the bulk of the pressure on schools in that area, while leaving those in the southern half of the district with relatively comfortable.

Nowhere is this more obvious than at Plymouth Creek Elementary. Principal Sarabeth deNeui says she and her staff have had to get creative to accommodate their growing student body.

Even after moving three sections of all-day kindergarten to available space at Central Middle School this fall, Plymouth Creek was left with 31 sections of students for its 29 classrooms. The solution was to consolidate four of these sections into two -- both sections with two teachers, to keep the student-teacher ratios within the district's guidelines.

DeNeui says that although she doesn't believe these changes have affected the quality of the education, the new enrollment boundaries will be a welcome relief.

In addition to easing the strain on schools like Plymouth Creek, Westrum says the new enrollment boundaries will align attendance areas with nearly $11 million worth of recently approved facilities upgrades, including 12 new classrooms -- four each at Greenwood, Oakwood and Sunset Hill elementary schools.

Westrum hopes the public meetings will help area parents better understand the situation and give them a chance to examine the options laid out by the district and its consultant, Dennis Cheesebrow of Teamworks International, Inc. Parents will even have a chance to draft their own proposals and present them to district representatives.

Westrum says a similar community review process was used the last time the district redrew its enrollment boundaries six years ago.

Vera Spanowsky had just moved into the district at that time, and her first child was attending kindergarten at Plymouth Creek. She doesn't remember the crowding being as bad then as it is now.

"Plymouth Creek is now at the limit," Spanowsky said. "The building is just not made for that many kids."

Now that her second child -- a second-grader -- is enrolled at Plymouth Creek, she's looking forward to this round of public meetings and hopes other parents will take advantage of the opportunity to voice their concerns.

District officials will use the information gathered at these meetings when they make their recommendation to the school board in late November. The board will take action on the boundary changes at its regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 10.

Nick Woltman is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

  • IF YOU GO...

    Attend one of the following public meetings to learn more about the options being considered by the Wayzata schools and share your feedback.

    All of the sessions will be held from 7-9 p.m. in Central Middle School, Room A413, on these dates:

    • Monday, Oct. 29

    • Tuesday, Oct. 30

    • Monday, Nov. 5

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