Jefferson school gets a reprieve; Emerson now on 2007 closing list

Nov. 29 public meeting; Dec. 14 Board vote planned

The Minneapolis Public Schools announced Nov. 12 that Jefferson Community School in the Wedge would not be closed in Fall 2007, as earlier proposed.

Jefferson — which was to be merged into Whittier Community School for the Arts, 2620 Grand Ave. — will instead absorb intact the program at Loring Park’s Emerson Spanish Immersion School, 1421 Spruce Place, in fall 2007. The closures are part of a plan to pare classrooms due to past and projected enrollment declines.

Kathy Anson, co-chair of Emerson’s PTA, said Emerson’s closure had neither been mentioned in any recommendation nor at informal community discussions Nov. 8-11. Emerson parents got the bad news in a Nov. 12 letter from school principal Luis Ortega.

A legally mandated meeting to discuss the Emerson proposal will occur Monday, Nov. 29, 7-9 p.m. at Jefferson, 1200 W. 26th St.

Although the School Board plans to vote on a citywide closing plan Tuesday, Nov. 30, it will delay a final decision on Emerson until Dec. 14 to give parents time to react, said Minneapolis Schools Communications Director Sarah Snapp.

Snapp said a decision must be made before parents of prospective Kindergarteners pick their schools early next year.

Snapp said the Emerson-to-Jefferson plan made the most sense because both have a Spanish-language history and are K-8s.

"One of the concerns was moving those big middle school students into Whittier, which was designed for K-5 students and having the kind of room that is appropriate," Snapp said. "It will be easier to put two K-8 programs together."

Emerson’s program split off from Jefferson’s in 1991. Its students learn math, science and social studies in Spanish, and reading and language in their native and second languages. Jefferson students took Spanish classes until this fall, when budget cuts canceled the offering for kindergarten through 5th graders.

Both schools are 50 percent Latino.

Heather Vick, Jefferson’s family liaison and volunteer coordinator, said the reaction at her school has been positive.

"Parents are very excited about having Spanish in this building again," said Vick. "Budget cuts eliminated Spanish for K-5 students, and with the coming of Emerson students, we will get that back."

Emerson parents reacted with shock, said Anson.

"We are concerned that the district’s planning process is deeply flawed," said the Kenwood resident. "Emerson parents have had no opportunity to provide any feedback or input.

School Board President Sharon Henry-Blythe expected the most recent plan to remain in place.

"I can’t say that nothing else will change, but my best guess is that we probably won’t see any more changes in the recommendations at this point," she said.

Said Anson, "We need a lot of information before we can understand what this really means for our school and what benefits our students would accrue from this move,"she said. "I have a real concern about the district compromising one of its most highly successful and sought-after programs."

One key issue will be fitting Emerson and Jefferson’s students into one building. Emerson currently has 550 students; Jefferson, 610. District officials say Jefferson’s building can hold about 1,000 students.

Said Vick, "We would be packed to the gills. The district may have to change attendance boundaries to make the numbers go down."

Dan Hambrock, the Minneapolis schools’ interim operations director, said, "We still have to shrink down before we bring [Emerson and Jefferson student bodies] together, but we feel pretty confident that we have capacity to accommodate however many students come to us."

The district has not discussed what it will do with the Emerson property.