As one of the metro area’s fasting-growing suburbs over the past decade, Shakopee has known for years that it would have to accommodate more kids in high school.
In March, the school board continued to narrow its options for what form a new high school, slated to open in 2017, might take.
Board members are leaning toward adding a second high school serving grades 9-12 rather than a “stacked” model in which ninth- and 10th-graders are in one building and 11th- and 12th-graders are in another. The White Bear Lake district uses that model.
Though the board hasn’t made an official decision, “The 9-10 and 11-12 setup is not looking very promising because it doesn’t work very well in White Bear Lake,” board member Mary Romansky said.
“We decided that that model isn’t a good fit for Shakopee,” said Superintendent Rod Thompson.
The district has looked closely at the alternatives. In February, about 20 parents, teachers and administrators visited White Bear Lake and Lakeville high schools to examine how things were working for staff and students. Lakeville has two traditional high schools for grades 9-12.
They found that staff communication was strained in White Bear Lake and that it was challenging for students to move between the schools, Romansky said.
In Lakeville, though, having North and South high schools seems to work well, said board member Angela Tucker.
Also, Lakeville and Shakopee share similarities, Tucker said. “They have a close-knit community, their populations are pretty close and the number of students at each high school would be similar.”
After the two visits, the group took a survey, and nearly 90 percent favored two 9-12 high schools.
The discussion follows a 2011 task force recommendation that the district build a second high school rather than adding onto the current structure to create a “megaschool,” like in Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.
The board agreed, Thompson said, noting that “bigger isn’t better for them.”
Officials have also considered and decided against building a separate 9th-grade center next to an expanded 10-12 high school.
A second 9-12 high school will benefit students because they’ll have twice as many opportunities to participate in activities, Thompson said. In addition, “there’s a tremendous role modeling that happens when you have 9th- and 10th-grade students in the building with seniors, who are going off to college.”
The current Shakopee High School opened in 2007 and can accommodate between 1,700 and 1,800 students, according to Principal Kim Swift. About 1,500 students in grades 10-12 now attend. Because they can’t fit at the high school, 9th-graders are at two junior high schools with the 7th- and 8th-graders.
As of this year, 6th-graders attend a 6th-grade center, but that is meant to be a temporary fix, Romansky said. The biggest bubble of students is in grades 4-6, Swift said, with close to 600 kids in each grade.
“Those kids are coming, and we have to plan for them. We can’t wait,” Swift said.
Building a new high school would allow 6th-graders to move to the junior high, making it a middle school, with 9th-graders attending high school.
Swift believes freshmen belong in a high school because they “are in a much different place developmentally than 7th- and 8th-graders.”
Swift said she thinks the “stacked” model would be challenging because “having students transition a lot of times maybe isn’t the best model. There’s something about getting settled in a place.”
The board plans to get more input from residents about which model they like and to what extent they would vote to approve funding, Thompson said.
To do that, the district has hired a company to conduct a phone survey. The district will also send out an online survey to parents, students and staff.
The surveys are a way to “check in to see if [residents] know how large the district is,” he said. A decade ago, the district had 3,500 students, but by 2017, it will have between 8,000 and 9,000 students, he said.
The board will offer an official recommendation on which high school model it favors this summer. If all goes as planned, the issue will be on the ballot in February 2014, Thompson said.
Thompson is also planning a visit to Ankeny, Iowa, a community that he said has a similar background and history to Shakopee. That district will open a second high school next year, and their school board is willing to talk about lessons learned, he said.
When they began researching high school options three years ago, Romansky said she was “the last person on the board who wanted two high schools in the city.”
Over time, though, she’s realized that a new school is inevitable because of Shakopee’s continued growth.
“It’s been a very systematic process that we’ve taken,” she said. “In reality, we have to do what’s best for the kids.”