The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district is preparing students and parents for a big change next year: moving ninth-graders to high school and sixth-graders to middle schools, a change that puts the district in line with most other metro-area districts.
District voters passed a $65 million building bond referendum last February, funding additions to Burnsville High School to provide space for ninth-graders and seniors. The expansion includes a new technology center and collaborative learning spaces, science classrooms and an activity center with three gyms and other fitness spaces.
Seniors, currently split between the high school and the off-site Senior Campus, will all be in one place for 2016-17.
“There’s really no downside to [having freshmen here],” said Dave Helke, principal at Burnsville High School. “They are ready and it opens the door.”
Having ninth-graders in the building gives students another year to prepare for college and careers, while offering them more coursework choices, Helke said.
Middle and high schools are holding parent meetings and open houses like Tuesday’s “Discover Burnsville High School” event.
Several parents there were enthusiastic about the new grade configurations.
“I think it’s great that they’re jumping into this century and dropping the junior high,” said Liz Stone, parent of an eighth-grader.
Parent Terri Cooper, who has a sixth-grader, said she attended a 6-8 middle school so the combination felt familiar.
“It’s better to have ninth grade in high school, to have that year to adjust,” Cooper said.
But Bashir Harbi, a junior, said he was disappointed he wouldn’t get to experience the Senior Campus.
About 50 metro area districts have 6-8 middle schools and 9-12 high schools, leaving a few, like Shakopee and Stillwater, with the other arrangement.
“There’s actually no empirical evidence that says one grade combination is better than another,” said Karen Seashore, an education professor at the University of Minnesota. “It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s what you do inside.”
The district’s three junior highs are also becoming middle schools, requiring a change in teachers’ approach to kids, said Kelly Ronn, principal at Metcalf Junior High.
“I think the biggest change is that the school will be focused on grade level rather than subject area,” Ronn said. “The middle school philosophy is that you’re looking at the needs of the whole child.”
Students at all levels will notice other differences next year.
As part of last year’s referendum, voters also approved a $2.5 million-a-year technology levy. High school students will receive their own Chromebooks next year, with middle schoolers getting them in 2017-18.
Several students said the Chromebooks were the coolest part of all the high school’s updates.
“When I was hired four years ago, our technology was a little bit behind, and now we’re going to be one-to-one,” said Sheana Eggers, a high school English teacher. “Obviously, technology opens doors for our students.”
The district is adopting a science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) focus, with a twist: the “A” represents arts, advanced or honors programs and AVID, the college readiness program. The high school will debut its Pathways program, which lets students take a concentration of classes to prepare for a broad career field, like health sciences and human services.
Not everyone has been excited about the changes. In the fall, junior Tyrese Leverty heard students expressing negativity about the construction in the gym and parking lots, causing school dances to be canceled and limiting parking spots.
“I wanted to do something about it,” Leverty said.
He created a subcommittee of the “Burnsville Strong” initiative to inform students about all of the changes, which many didn’t know about. He also wanted to get them excited, he said, and it seems to be working.
“I really like the idea of having so many new opportunities,” he said.