Southwest principal does double duty

Parents worried when Armatage principal Joan Franks picked up the top job at nearby Kenny, but there are no complaints now

When Kenny Community School saw Principal Wendy Weimer retire at the end of last school year, the Minneapolis School District replaced her with Armatage Community School Principal Joan Franks. However, Franks did not relinquish her stewardship at Armatage; she took the helm of both.

Franks is currently the principal at Armatage, 2501 W. 56th St., a job she has held for the past six years and at Kenny, located less than one mile away at 5720 Emerson Ave. S.

Both K-5 community schools have similar demographics. Most students come from the same area of Southwest. Kenny has 367 students, while Armatage has 386. Kenny has about 32 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, a poverty indicator, while Armatage’s figure is 35 percent. Both numbers are well below the district average.

Despite Franks having to attend two PTA meetings, two site council meetings and fund-raisers at both schools, plus watch over two teaching staffs and two student bodies, she does not get extra pay.

"The challenge is to be visible at both buildings, and it’s difficult at times, so I try and be at both buildings every week," said Franks. (See her schedule, sidebar.)

"The kids are well behaved, and there is incredible parent support in the two communities," she said. "It gives me more time to get into the classroom and be out there greeting families."

Mary Brozic is the mother of a Kenny 1st-grader. The Kenny neighborhood resident writes the weekly school newsletter and is on the PTA Board. Brozic said that when parents found out that Franks would run two schools at once, they were apprehensive about how it was going to work.

"We felt a little slighted at first," Brozic said. "What message was the district sending us? Was this a precursor to closing our school because [enrollment] numbers are dropping, and Windom, Armatage, Burroughs and Lake Harriet are so close by? We tried to be welcoming, but we needed to be shown that Joan could do this — and she has."

Amy Platt’s son Holden is at the Montessori program at Armatage. "It’s not an issue at Armatage," said Platt, a Kenwood resident. "My perception is that Joan is kind of a powerhouse. If any one can do two schools, I think she is the one."

Franks gets help from Intern Principal Mike Pederson, who began teaching in Minneapolis in 1985. He recently completed a two-year program at the University of St. Thomas for his principal’s license. Minneapolis is the only school district in the state requiring that a future principal be an intern before becoming a full- fledged assistant principal. Franks is teaching Pederson the ropes. He is mostly at Kenny but spends time at Armatage, too.

Gwen Jackson, elementary superintendent for the Minneapolis Public Schools, said being principal at two schools is rare but that Franks is not alone. Principal Susan Craig supervises Downtown Open and Cooper School.

"It is a cost-saving measure," said Jackson. "The average salary, not including benefits, for a principal is about $95,000. We want to be thrifty with our dollars. We think it would be hard to justify to the public that a full-time principal be at a school with a small student population."

Jackson acknowledged, "The parents at Kenny weren’t excited about the plan when I shared it with them. Historically, both Kenny and Armatage have had one principal. But parents are very pleased with Joan, and they are also very pleased with Mike."

Jackson said that because Kenny and Armatage are near each other and have low teacher and student turnover rates, it was logical that they should share one principal.

Franks said one positive aspect is that Armatage and Kenny parents communicate more. The two site councils meet once a month. They are currently discussing the possible benefits of pairing the two schools. One school would be a K-2 program while the other would be a 3-5 program, somewhat similar to the K-2, 3-8 split at Lake Harriet Community School, 4030 Chowen Ave. S. and 4912 Vincent Ave. S. (The Lake Harriet campuses also share a principal with an intern principal providing support.)

Said Franks, "Both [Armatage and Kenny] are currently K-5 schools and are drawing from similar communities. The advantage would be that we could gear a specialized curriculum to those specific ages. Plus, if the district considers closing one of the schools, we would not be competing against each other for students."

Fueling the closing speculation, Kenny’s student body has dropped from 490 in 1998 to 367 this year, while Armatage’s has fallen from 452 to 386 during the same period.

For comparison, Burroughs, another K-5 at 1501 W. 50th St., has 493 kids this year and is built to hold another 100.

According to school district spokesperson Melissa Winter, the district expects 3,000 fewer students next school year, and interim Superintendent David Jennings has mentioned school closings as a possibility.

However, no timetable has been set for that discussion, and there would be community hearings before any decision is made.

(Some parents in the two-year-old Armatage Montessori program have worried that it will be jettisoned should Armatage be closed. However, Winter notes that district wants the program in a Southwest school and chose Armatage in part because Franks had been principal of another Minneapolis Montessori school.)

Still, dwindling enrollment means that more schools may share principals in the future, Jackson said.

"We have to think outside the box in order to be fiscally responsible to the community while also continuing to improve on student achievement," Jackson said.

Principal ping-pong

A week from Joan Franks’ schedule

Dec. 8, 2003

8 a.m. — Arboretum to discuss site improvement plans with parents’ representatives from both schools

1 p.m. — Fire drill @ Armatage

1:30 p.m. — Read to a classroom @ Kenny

2:30 p.m. — Meet with a parent @ Armatage

Dec. 9, 2003

7 a.m. — Meet with a teacher @ Armatage

8:30 a.m. — Meet with a parent @ Kenny

1 p.m. — Fire drill @ Kenny

2 p.m. — Armatage P.T.A. meeting

3:30 p.m. — Armatage and Kenny Site

Council mtg. at Armatage

Dec. 10, 2003

7:30 a.m. — Principal mtg. @ St. Maron’s

noon — Read to classroom @ Kenny

2 p.m. — Meeting @ Armatage regarding a student

Dec. 11, 2003

7 a.m. — Meeting with Intern @ Kenny

8 a.m. — Musical @ Armatage

9 a.m. — P.C. Training

10 a.m. — Spent the rest of the day @ Kenny

Dec. 12, 2003

7:30 a.m. — Principal’s exec. board meeting

9:00 a.m. — P.C. training @ Armatage

11:30 a.m — Classroom observations @ Kenny

1:00 p.m. — Meeting with a teacher @ Armatage