Kenny saved, Jefferson to close under latest School Board plan

Kenwood closing option is discarded; Bryn Mawr would absorb Golden Valley Montessori program

As a plan to close Minneapolis public schools firms up, Kenny School and Kenwood School parents have reason to rejoice while disappointment sinks in for the Jefferson Community School community.

At its Oct. 26 meeting, the Minneapolis School Board agreed to a final proposal that will close 11 schools, mostly in North Minneapolis and near the Mississippi River, beginning in fall 2005.

The proposal goes to public meetings that begin Monday, Nov. 8 before an expected Nov. 30 final board vote.

In contrast to an Oct. 12 closing scenario that district consultants recommended, Kenny, a K-5 school at 5720 Emerson Ave. S., will remain open. However, Jefferson, a K-8 at 1200 W. 26th St., would merge in fall 2007 with Whittier Community School for the Arts, 2620 Grand Ave. Whittier, now a K-5, would become a K-8 after the merger.

One alternative was to merge Kenwood, a K-5 at 2013 Penn Ave. into Jefferson. That is apparently off the table.

Also, next fall, Bryn Mawr School, a K-5 at 252 Upton Ave. S., will absorb Parkview Montessori. Parkview now leases space in Golden Valley.

The closing plans have been forced by declining enrollment, which consultants predict will continue. Although the district pulled back from a closing plan this spring, the current version seems headed for approval.

"We have been taking public input on this for nine months," said Sarah Snapp, the district’s director of communications and public affairs. "We are at a point where it is time to make a decision. The board is confident that this is the collective best thinking."

Public meetings

There is still time for public feedback. Four "conversations with the community" will be held, one in each quadrant of the city. The consultants will be on hand for a give-and-take on how they crunched the numbers and made their recommendations. The schedule for the 7-9 p.m. meetings is:

– Monday, Nov. 8, North High School, 1500 James Ave. N.

– Tuesday, Nov. 9, Edison High School, 700 22nd Ave. NE

– Wednesday, Nov. 10, Sanford Middle School, 3524 42nd Ave. S.

– Thursday, Nov. 11, Washburn High School, 201 W. 49th St.

Snapp said these meetings would give the public a chance to present ideas that the consultants and School Board might not have thought of.

In addition to the informal conversations, state law mandates formal public hearings wherein residents can testify before the Board for up to three minutes. The Southwest meeting is Thursday, Nov. 18, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Washburn High School, 201 W. 49th St.

Another meeting will be held Wednesday, Nov. 17, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at North High School, 1500 James Ave. N.

Survivors and closures

Dan Hambrock, interim executive director for operations for the Minneapolis district, said the decision to close Jefferson was based on its overlapping attendance areas with Whittier and Kenwood. Each school collects area kids within a mile-and-a-half radius, and according to projections, Jefferson won’t have enough to fill the school.

Currently, there are 610 kids at Jefferson. Not all of them will fit at Whittier, Snapp said, but with continued enrollment declines expected, it will be easier to accommodate Jefferson students at Whittier in 2007. It is unknown whether Jefferson will accept kindergarteners for next school year, she said.

The plan was sad news for Jefferson Principal Ray Aponte, who will not only lose the school he has run for four years, but the place where his 1st-grade daughter goes.

Aponte wonders how the school will function when its closing date is still nearly three years away.

"My first and foremost concern is what is going to happen to the students and families at Jefferson," Aponte said. "It’s still a long time away; I do not know how it is going to play out. It’s my hope that we can facilitate a plan that focuses on what the kids need in order to make this move work."

Jefferson parents plan a vocal response, said Heather Vick, the school’s parent liaison. Two hundred adults turned out for a Sunday meeting in late October, many of whom are Latino, Vick said. A letter-writing campaign, among other efforts, is planned.

At Kenny, John Sheehy, who has three kids at the school and organized against its closing, felt vindicated.

"They had the numbers wrong, and it just required some people to sit down and think about it to see that they couldn’t merge Kenny and Armatage [Community School]," he said.

Kenny was saved because combining enrollments would more than fill Armatage, a K-5 at 2501 W. 56th, while nearby community schools such as Barton, Burroughs and Lake Harriet are effectively full.

Snapp said that while Kenny will remain open, exactly what programs will be there has not been decided. Some have talked about adding a Montessori program or one for early childhood education.

Kenny will collaborate with Armatage since the two are located within a mile of each other and share Principal Joan Franks.

While the closing plan will be finalized by Nov. 30, Snapp doubted that all of the details would be set by that date.