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Oct. 4, 2011: Does surge of students mean it's time to reopen two Mpls. schools?

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL
  • Star Tribune
  • October 3, 2011 - 10:53 PM

A Minneapolis Public Schools plan to deal with an unexpected flood of new students could reopen two schools and shift more than 4,400 students, undoing changes made just two years ago.

District leaders will discuss the proposal during a series of community meetings before a formal presentation to Board of Education members Nov. 1.

The proposed changes could be the solution to an enrollment boom that has packed classrooms and schools citywide, less than two years after district shuttered buildings and shifted school boundaries in anticipation of fewer students.

"We called some things wrong and now some things are going right for us," school board member Carla Bates said.

District staffers are predicting that enrollment could rise by 1,900 students alone in the areas that funnel into Southwest and Washburn high schools. Based on U.S. census data analysis, district leaders are planning on more students enrolling in northeast and south Minneapolis. North Minneapolis remains steady after years of losing students to charter schools and other districts in western suburbs.

The district has not attached a final dollar amount to the proposal, but the plan will cost it tens of millions of dollars. Last month, the school board approved more than $27 million total for expansions at the Lake Harriet School lower campus and the Keewaydin campus of Lake Nokomis School. The cost for planned upgrades at Pratt Community School, also approved by the school board, has yet to be determined.

The changes would span the city from the tip of north Minneapolis to the city's southeast corner.

• In north Minneapolis, grade configurations would change at two schools, Jenny Lind Community, which would become a K-5 school, and Olson Middle, which would educate grades six through eight. The shift would provide a comprehensive middle school for the upper half of north Minneapolis.

Two K-8 schools in north Minneapolis, Nellie Stone Johnson and Lucy Laney, would send students to North High School. Students at the schools now traditionally attend Henry High School.

• In northeast Minneapolis, Sheridan International Fine Arts, a K-8 school, would scale back to a K-5 school with its students attending Northeast Middle School. The shift would provide space for roughly 250 kindergarten through fifth grade students.

• In south Minneapolis, the district wants to reopen two closed schools, Howe, at 3733 43rd Av. S., and Folwell, at 3611 20th Av. S. Howe, which shut down in 2005 because of declining enrollment, would serve third- through fifth-graders, with nearby Hiawatha becoming a K-2 school. Once students leave Howe, they would enroll at Sanford Middle School. The move would open up space for another 200 students in the area.

The district wants to relocate Ramsey Performing Arts Magnet several miles away to the Folwell building.

At the Lake Nokomis Keewaydin campus, which serves fourth- through eighth- graders, the district plans to invest $16 million to provide space for another 180 students.

At the Roosevelt High School campus, the district wants to expand the Wellstone International High School program for English language learners to include middle school students and rename it the International Newcomers School.

• In southwest Minneapolis, the district plans to invest $11 million at the Lake Harriet School lower campus to create room for another 125 students.

The district would open a middle school at Ramsey that would serve students from Burroughs and Lyndale schools, a move that would open space for 600 middle school students.

Jefferson Community, a K-8 school, would serve K-5 students. Middle school students would attend Anthony with the option to attend Anwatin school.

David Weingartner, parent of a student at Lyndale Community School in southwest Minneapolis, openly criticized the district "Changing School Options" plan that predicted enrollment declines.

The gradual increase in southwest Minneapolis wasn't noticed until schools started filling up. The response this time has improved, he said.

"They needed to do something big and bold," said Weingartner, whose daughter switched schools under the prior plan. "It's a good opportunity."

Mary Hanson, a parent of three district students, is irritated at the thought of a second round of school shifts.

"[The district] is trying to fix a problem they created," she said. "These aren't just buildings. They forget that it's kids we're talking about."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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