Interested students and parents will undergo an intensive five-step admissions process to get into the School for the Exceptionally Gifted.
"We need to make sure that this is an ideal fit and environment," Minnetonka High Potential Services coordinator Mike Postma told the school board. "This is a feeling-out process between us and potential students to make sure that they will be successful in the program."
First, the district will hold a series of informational meetings at elementary schools later this month. Interested families will submit applications and work portfolios by March 6.
Next, a committee will interview parents and students. Then each student will be assessed using the WISC IV standardized test to make sure his or her IQ is approximately 145 or higher. Finally, a committee will review all materials to determine if there's a good fit. There will be opportunities for reconsideration, as well. Students for the school could be identified as early as May.
The school will be located in two classrooms -- one each at Excelsior Elementary and Scenic Heights Elementary. Both buildings have the necessary space and facilities to accommodate the program, including enough space should the program expand to include younger students.
The buildings are located centrally in the eastern and western parts of the district and provide easy access to parents in other parts of the district, Postma said. Eventually, the schools will feed the district's two middle schools.
Transportation, which had the potential of becoming the greatest additional cost, will be provided only for students who already live in the attendance areas of the two elementary schools. Other students must arrange transportation or get dropped off at an existing bus route to the schools.
The language component of the school was an early concern of parents and board members who wanted to know if students already enrolled in one of the district's language immersion programs would be able to continue learning that language. Some had concerns the students would be trading their "immersion" experience for an "exposure" experience if they moved to the new school.
"We need to honor the fact that we started them in a program that needs to be finished," said Superintendent Dennis Peterson. "They're going to get frequent daily language instruction. It may be fair to not call it 'immersion,' but they've already been immersed and they will continue the same development."
Much of the public feedback regarding the school centered on philosophy and expense, said Board Member Erin Adams. The new school will cost about $125,000 annually for staff, classroom materials and assessment. The board has been questioned about how the district can justify the additional expense when others are tightening their belts.
"In education, because we're charged with the future, no matter what the sea looks like, you always have to steer the ship toward the horizon -- you always have to go toward the future," Adams said. "You can't just hug the shore and hope that it calms down."
Board Member Paul Luehr added that $125,000 is 0.15 percent of the district's $80 million annual budget.
There's been talk in the community about the Exceptionally Gifted School being "elitist," Luehr said. "If you want to call us elitist because we want to have the best education for our best kids, fine," he said. "Having an elite institution when it comes to education is where we should be, and we should treat our elite students just as we do our elite athletes, yet I think they're often overlooked. If, on the other hand ... we forget about the average student -- the middle learner -- then shame on us."
Room to grow
The school's plan includes expansion scenarios should the program grow. Postma proposed that the school model expand into both middle schools in 2010-11 to give the students graduating from the elementary level program similar learning opportunities. The district also recommended that the board eventually consider expansion into the primary grades.