ADVERTISEMENT

As members of the Blaze Blazettes dance team warmed up on the field, youth football players began to arrive for Burnsville football’s fourth annual “Kick Off Bash” on Aug. 22. Across the south metro, schools and students have been gearing up for the start of the new school year.

DAVID JOLES • djoles@startribune.com,

Feed Loader,

A new track, artificial turf and an updated scoreboard were installed this summer at Dan Patch Stadium, where Prior Lake teams play.

Feed Loader,

Uniformed St. Thomas Academy students attended a Prep Bowl game in 2012. This school year will mark the last the academy participates in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.

File photo by BRUCE BISPING,

South metro schools launch a new year

  • Article by: Erin Adler
  • Star Tribune
  • September 2, 2014 - 3:00 PM

New faces in principals’ offices, lots of shiny iPads and several new college readiness programs are among the changes that students will notice at south-metro high schools as they arrive for their first week back.

Did your school add more engineering courses or build a new fabrication lab with 3-D printers? Did the football stadium get a new scoreboard and turf? Read on to find out.

Academic Arts

Principal: Krissy Wright

At this small, project-based charter school in West St. Paul, the new year will bring several changes, including four new staff members. Another new face is the school’s pet, a turtle named Sheldon.

For the first time, students will be able to take archery to fulfill physical education credits.

The school purchased more than 50 new Chromebooks so students will have more technology access in the classroom this year.

There will be a strong environmental focus at the school, and a new student-run recycling program is a part of that effort.

Apple Valley

Principal: Steve Degenaar

A new fabrication lab — “fab lab” — will open at Apple Valley, part of the school’s increased focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming.

The space is outfitted with tools like 3-D printers, 3-D scanners, laser cutters and engravers and vinyl cutters, said Principal Steve Degenaar.

In addition, new ceiling tiles and lights were installed on part of the second floor, with the rest to be updated next summer.

And there will also be lots of introductory handshakes this week: over the past two years, about 25 teachers have retired. That means this fall, students will see 16 new teachers, with another eight entering their second year, Degenaar said.

Belle Plaine

Principal: Dave Kreft

There will be many excited students in the Belle Plaine district this fall, because every K-12 student is receiving an iPad Mini to do schoolwork.

For middle-level and high school students, the district is introducing “Ramp Up to Readiness,” a college preparation program offered through the University of Minnesota. Students will have one 30-minute lesson per week to help “start a conversation about the next stage of their life,” said Principal Dave Kreft. Several other south-metro high schools are adding the program this year.

In addition, the math department has expanded to offer more interventions for struggling students, Kreft said.

Burnsville

Principal: Dave Helke

For three years the high school has been undergoing a makeover to “give it more of a 21st-century learning feel,” said Principal Dave Helke. Construction continued this summer, and students will notice renovations to the cafeteria and classrooms.

As part of an increased emphasis on music, two new music classes — guitar and piano — will be offered. And for the first time ever, the school will have a strings group. As more students move up through the stringed instrument program in elementary and middle schools, the group will become a full-fledged orchestra.

Burnsville will introduce College Possible this year, an after-school college preparation program that brings in AmeriCorps members to coach immigrant and low-income students through the process of preparing for and applying to college. It also provides support all the way through college. This is the third year of Achievement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a program that prepares students for college during through an elective class. The school recently became an officially-certified AVID site, he said.

Cannon Falls

Principal: Tim Hodges

At the secondary level, the school is starting a one-to-one mobile device project, with sixth- and ninth-graders receiving Dell tablets at the beginning of the year. Staff members got the same computers last spring.

The school will be implementing Ramp Up to Readiness for grades 6-12. The program, offered through the University of Minnesota, will focus on college preparation during students’ advisory period. The program involves 28 weekly lessons. There will also be five full-class workshop sessions during the year on various topics.

The school is also welcoming a new business teacher, a new social studies teacher and a new K-12 associate principal, Michael O’Keefe.

Convent of the Visitation

Principal: Dawn Nichols

This is the first full year students will be able to use the school’s “Coeur de Visitation,” from the French word for heart of the school. It’s a newly remodeled entrance and commons area, which also contains additional classrooms, completed last March. The space also includes a library and an Idea Lab, a sound-treated room where students can work on multimedia projects.

The school continues to develop its leadership programming for young women. This year, a series of multicultural speakers will be visiting to talk about womanhood around the world.

Three new administrators have been hired recently, including directors of the upper and middle schools and a director of finance and operations.

Eagan

Principal: Polly Reikowski

The Rosemount-Apple-Valley-Eagan district has a new technology pilot program to see how different devices work in various classrooms.

Six Eagan teachers will have classes in which all students get an iPad Mini. Along with 40 other teachers across the district, they will conduct research with the devices and report their findings.

Sound systems in the gym and auditorium were replaced recently because they were both 25 years old and had been repaired many times, said Principal Polly Reikowski. With new speakers, sound will be improved at events in both spaces, she said.

The AVID program is now in its second year, which means it has expanded to the sophomore class. The school sent five teachers to AVID training this summer.

Three new teachers and three who were previously worked in other district schools will join the staff this year.

Eastview

Principal: Randall Peterson

The 2014-15 school year will bring several new classes and programs to Eastview, most in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics area.

As part of a districtwide technology pilot program, ninth-graders will receive iPads.

Last year, a new engineering programming was introduced, and this is the first year of full implementation. The program includes applied mathematics, applied science and college-prep engineering classes.

Three new classes that go beyond previous calculus offerings have been added: Multivariable Calculus, Differentiated Equations and Linear Algebra.

The business department is introducing a new Introduction to Computer Programming course to help students prepare for the Advanced Placement Computer Programming class and the school’s robotics program.

Farmington

Principal: Jason Berg

One of the most obvious updates at Farmington is the new principal, Jason Berg. He replaces Ben Kusch, who is now leading Shakopee High School.

Berg isn’t new to the district or high school. He taught math at Farmington for eight years. He was also a curriculum specialist for two years and assistant principal for a year and a half.

Like several other south metro high schools, Farmington is implementing Ramp Up to Readiness, a college preparation program offered through the University of Minnesota. The program gets students to put together a plan for their high school career, said Berg, which fits well with the districtwide focus on personalizing education.

There are 10 new staff members at the high school this year. Berg said the new faces are a welcome addition: “We’re excited when we get new staff members. We get new ideas and ways of thinking.”

Henry Sibley

Principal: Ron Monson

After 25 years in the classroom, Ron Monson is trading life science for life as a high school principal. Monson, Henry Sibley’s new principal, was also a coach, an athletic administrator and most recently an assistant principal.

“I’m super excited to be here,” he said. “My excitement is around community and culture.”

This is the third year that the school has implemented the college-readiness program Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), which means it is now offered to grades 9, 10 and 11. The school is now an officially-certified AVID site. In the long-term, a goal is to expand AVID concepts across the school, Monson said.

The school has its largest freshman class in decades, with more than 400 students. Last year’s graduating class was just 273.

Henry Sibley will offer five new hybrid courses this year, in which part of the class is online and the other is taught in a classroom.

Jordan

Principal: Barb McNulty

There’s a lot that’s new at Jordan High School this year, according to Principal Barb McNulty. Districtwide, school started a week early so that it ends early as well. The extra time will be needed for construction on the middle school, which will be completely remodeled, other than its shell.

Four new classes will be offered this year, including Advanced Placement U.S. History for sophomores and a business course in which students design apps and computer games. A new careers course will now be offered to freshmen instead of eighth-graders, allowing students to focus on creating a four-year plan when they get to high school.

A new math teacher will work with struggling students, especially juniors taking Algebra 2, to get them caught up during an extra class period, McNulty said.

The district is exploring a one-to-one initiative by first piloting two different devices with staff. This fall, half of district staff received iPads and half received Chromebooks. In December they will trade devices. Next year, all students will get a device.

The high school has a new learning management system, Schoology, which allows teachers to give assignments, link websites or write blog entries through an online platform. It’s common in college for students to have to use a similar online tool in their courses, McNulty said, so Schoology is a good preview.

The high school is implementing Positive Behavorial Intervention and Support, a schoolwide program that aims to encourage positive behavior and create a healthy school climate. It is already in place at middle and elementary schools.

Lakeville North

Principal: Marne Berkvam

Both Lakeville high schools have created a ninth-grade Connections Academy, a new program to help incoming freshmen succeed. Many of the students enrolled struggled at the middle level, said Principal Marne Berkvam, and this is a way to give them extra support. Students in the academy take three core classes together and also have a seminar focusing on organization and study skills.

Lakeville North also has new tennis courts, which Berkvam called “huge.” Previously, high school teams were playing at Century Middle School because high school courts were in such bad shape.

In 2015, all juniors in Minnesota will take the ACT for the first time. Getting ready for the testing day, including training proctors and making sure classrooms meet testing requirements, takes a lot of planning, she said.

The school has also improved its recycling efforts, she added.

Lakeville South

Principal: John Braun

After 24 years as principal of Lake Marion Elementary in the Lakeville district, John Braun is finally ready to work with the big kids. When the principal position at Lakeville South opened up after Scott Douglas’ retirement, Braun saw an opportunity to expand his leadership skills, he said.

He’s excited about several new initiatives at the high school, including a ninth-grade Connections Academy, also offered for the first time at Lakeville North. The academy has 28 students enrolled. They will take three core classes together, plus a seminar that focuses on organization and study skills. The goal is to reduce the number of ninth-graders who fail a class by putting them in a smaller setting.

“It’s a model that re really feel can help our freshmen … and give them the supports that they need to feel successful,” he said.

The school is adding a new option for students taking Advanced Placement classes in chemistry. Through a partnership with Southwest Minnesota State University, students can enroll concurrently in a class offered there, earning college credit if they pass. The credit is easily transferrable because the college is in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, he said.

After years of cuts and worries over large class sizes, the school will see six new licensed staff members this year, including social studies, science and special education teachers. “That brings a nice energy along with it,” he said.

New Prague

Principal: Lonnie Seifert

There are several big changes at New Prague this year, said Principal Lonnie Seifert. First, enrollment is up, with approximately 60 more students attending compared to last year.

The high school has a new one-student-to-one-device initiative, with all students receiving Chromebooks this fall for use 24/7, he said.

And a seven-period day has been adopted, in contrast to last year’s five-period schedule. The school has also switched from trimesters to semesters.

Students will notice the renovation of Trojan Stadium, where almost everything is new, from the artificial turf to the track, the lighting to the scoreboard and press box. The updates will allow the facility to host soccer games.

Prior Lake

Principal: Dave Lund

School in the Prior Lake-Savage district starts a week late this year, in order to give the district extra time to complete a 33,000 square-foot high school addition and a middle school remodeling project.

“We will be done and ready to move in,” said Principal Dave Lund.

When the school opened 11 years ago, there were 1,700 students enrolled. Now that number has jumped to 2,500, he said.

The addition includes six science classrooms and 12 traditional classrooms, he said, as well as a new fabrication lab, with 3-D printers, laser engravers and vinyl cutters, among other tools.

The “fab lab” is part of a revamped industrial technology department, which will host a new class this fall called Design, Build and Sell: Innovations Inc.

The semester-long class is team taught with teachers from the industrial tech and business departments, and offers students the chance to design, build and market their own products, he said.

The addition also includes an expanded foods lab, because classes in the Family and Consumer Science department have grown quite popular, he said.

Outside the school, Dan Patch Stadium has also gotten a makeover, with new turf, a new track and a fancy new video scoreboard. Students will use the field daily for gym classes, and the large video screen will be great for seeing every student’s face at high school graduation, he said.

For years, the school couldn’t hire new staff because there were no classrooms for them. Including retirements and resignations, there will be 15 new staff members this year, including nine teachers and a counselor.

Randolph

Principal: Benjamin Fisher

This year, the school will join a new athletic conference, the Southern Confederacy Conference, said Principal Benjamin Fisher. Previously, Randolph was a part of the Gopher Conference.

The high school has one new concurrent enrollment class with Inver Hills Community College — precalculus.

Rosemount

Principal: John Wollersheim

This year marks 50 years that Rosemount High School has been in the same building. The school hopes to host an event to celebrate on Nov. 8, exactly 50 years after the school’s first open house, said Principal John Wollersheim.

Like other schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, Rosemount is participating in a pilot program to test one-to-one mobile devices. Four teachers at Rosemount are taking part; their classes will get iPad Minis.

The school is beginning its second year with the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, Wollersheim said.

School of Environmental Studies
Principal: Dan Bodette


The School of Environmental Studies, also known as the “Zoo School” because it is next to the Minnesota Zoo, will be celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year, said Principal Dan Bodette.

On the practical side, the school has a new roof and an updated security system, he said.

Like other Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools, a few teachers here will take part in a “beta” program to determine the value of giving all students a device like an iPad.

And the Advancement Via Individual Determination program is being implemented for juniors and seniors this year, Bodette said.

Shakopee

Principal: Ben Kusch

Principal Ben Kusch is a new addition to Shakopee High School, having previously been principal at Farmington High School for six years. He’s “starting over in a very positive way,” he said.

And “there’s a whole lot of new going on” at Shakopee, he added.

The high school has 32 new licensed staff members, including teachers, counselors and other professionals. It has made the dean of students position full-time, rather than part-time, and hired someone new to fill it.

There’s a new leadership class offered this year, an elective, he said.

At the secondary level, the district now provides activity buses to take students home from after-school sports or activities, he said. And the school board has waived all student admissions: getting into a football game is now free.

In his first months as principal, he has been overseeing a group that redesigning all aspects of the district’s secondary schools, from facilities and technology to academics. The process has helped acclimate him to the district.

South St. Paul

Principal: Butch Moening

School started a week early this year in South St. Paul, to accommodate the major building project that’s currently underway and will be complete for the 2015-16 school year, said Principal Butch Moening.

That project is based around creating space for sixth-graders when they move up to the secondary building. The remodeled space incorporates classroom space, a new gym, a totally remodeled STEM wing and an updated media center and lunchroom area, among other things. The footprint of the school had to remain about the same, so the focus was on repurposing space and building up, he said.

Academically, the school is adding a new ninth-grade class called “Packer pathways” that will focus on college and career readiness.

There are also 20 new staff members this year at the secondary building, which is “quite an addition” for a school with 1,400 students.

St. Croix Lutheran

Principal: Rick Gibson

Enrollment at St. Croix Lutheran, a private Christian school in West St. Paul, continues to climb, said Principal Rick Gibson.

This year’s senior class is the biggest ever, with 126 students, and the school is currently building a 150-student dorm because it outgrew the old one, he said. While about a quarter of the student population lives in the dorms, the majority of the growth is coming from local students looking for a Christian school. There’s also been a small increase in international students.

This year the school started a one-to-one device program that requires students to bring their own laptop or iPad.

A new engineering course, the second in the Project Lead the Way curriculum series, was added this year, and the school will continue adding classes, he said.

St. Thomas Academy

Principal: Matt Mohs

Matt Mohs is one of a few novelties at St. Thomas Academy, a Catholic, all-male military academy in Mendota Heights. Most recently, he was the chief academic officer in the St. Paul district, and before that, the St. Thomas alumnus taught at a Catholic school in New Orleans.

“This opportunity is really the only one I would have considered leaving St. Paul for,” he said.

One change the school will face is the end of its status as a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) military school. After 99 years, this year will be its last participating in JROTC.

It will remain a military academy. But because the U.S. Army is cutting funding, St. Thomas will have to “figure out what the program looks like,” he said, and that will have a budget impact, too.

The school is in the midst of transitioning to a one-to-one device program, which will happen by the 2015-16 school year. In addition, new people have been hired for three key administrative positions, said Mohs.

Tri-City United

Principal: Alan Fitterer

Tri-City United High School, which enrolls students from Montgomery, Lonsdale and Le Center, is offering two new classes this year, said Principal Alan Fitterer.

Both are College in the Schools classes through the University of Minnesota, so students are concurrently enrolled at the college and at high school. A human anatomy class is being added, replacing an advanced biology course. A mathematical modeling class is also being brought back this year, he said. The classes are among 10 at the high school that offer concurrent enrollment.

The school’s marching band is preparing to play in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cork, Ireland, in March. The trip will provide priceless cultural experiences, he said.

Officials at Arcadia Charter School, Hastings, Northfield and Simley High Schools could not be reached.

Erin Adler • 612-673-4000





© 2014 Star Tribune