The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district enrolls nearly 28,000 students in a fast-growing suburban area. In contrast, its neighbor, the Hastings school district, serves 4,700 students from five small towns and seven rural townships. Earlier this month, the Minnesota Department of Education called out another key difference — demographics.
Hastings has 9 percent students of color, while Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan is about 32 percent minority students.
Because the disparity is more than 20 percentage points, the state designated Rosemount as a "racially isolated district." That requires the two districts to work together to integrate students.
"Once a district is designated, typically that means there needs to be some collaboration with another district or districts," said Stacy Wells, the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district's integration and equity director. "Often it's around professional development, and that's OK, but really what the state would like to see, and districts like to see, too, is some student programming. So that could be something that's in the summer, it could be an after-school program."
It could also include encouraging more open enrollment between districts, but that's not what districts typically try first, she said.
The idea isn't to change a district's demographics or move students permanently, but generally to offer families more choices and make sure the segregation isn't intentional, she said.
"With a district, once the demographics begin to change, that doesn't usually reverse, because it has a lot to do with housing patterns … and things that are really out of control of the school district," she added.
But because the designation is new for the district, there are still many questions to be answered by the state, said Steve Troen, Rosemount-Apple-Valley-Eagan's teaching and learning director.
"I think it presents some unique opportunities to partner with other districts, but it's still very early in the process," he said.
The Rosemount district also has three schools that are racially identifiable because they are 20 percent more diverse than the district average. Two are new designations this year — Oak Ridge and Echo Park elementary schools.
Addressing disparities within the district's own boundaries has been a focus for about a decade, since the district first had two schools named racially identifiable in 2005. Cedar Park Elementary, now a STEM magnet school, is still on that list.
Once a district is informed of its status, officials have about a year to make a plan to address it.
In the past, there has been no additional funding given by the state once a designation is made. Because of new statewide legislation passed in 2013, districts aren't certain whether more funding will be coming, Wells said.
The changes required by the state can be expensive to implement, she said: "It does impact general funding."
The growing diversity in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, especially in the city of Apple Valley, reflects demographic shifts that have been happening across the metro area and state for a decade, Troen said.
"We continue to focus on all students and look at that diversity as a strength," he said.
Making the racially isolated list isn't intended to seem negative or punitive, but a few people may still see it that way, Wells said.
Some parents who attended a meeting about Oak Ridge's racially identifiable status said the school's diversity is a good thing.
"It's part of what we like," said Heidi Edmonson, parent of two kids. "I've been enjoying learning about the different cultures of the kids my daughter is interacting with."
Parent Liz Hanson, who has a child at Oak Ridge, agreed. "Racial diversity is an asset because it allows for multiple perspectives," she said.