Schools notebook // School changes come into focus

The details of a Minneapolis Public Schools downsizing plan came into greater focus at the Aug. 4 School Board discussion meeting.

They included several significant changes in Southwest, among them the proposals to close Anwatin Middle School and end the Armatage Community School program, leaving only the Montessori program at that site. Windom Dual Spanish Immersion and Open School would close, and the program would move to another location.

Also, two top-performing Southwest schools would open to families in other parts of the city through a voluntary intra-district integration program.

District administrators were expected to give their final recommendation on Changing School Options, as the plan is known, at the Sept. 1 School Board meeting. All changes are planned for the start of the 2010–2011 school year.

The proposed Windom closing was part of an effort to consolidate the district’s two dual Spanish immersion programs, the other being Emerson Dual Spanish Immersion Learning Center on the edge of Downtown. Students from both programs would attend a new K–8 program in the Anwatin building.

A related change would expand Bryn Mawr Community School — which shares the Anwatin site — from a K–5 to a K–8 school. Bryn Mawr would then share middle school teachers and resources with the new Spanish immersion program.

The proposal also grouped the Bryn Mawr neighborhood with North and Northeast neighborhoods in one of three new zones that define where the district will offer transportation by bus. Currently, the neighborhood is considered part of the district’s Area C with other Southwest neighborhoods.

A voluntary intra-district integration program was expected to increase diversity slightly at Lake Harriet and Burroughs community schools, both of which have relatively low percentages of students of color compared to other district schools. The program would open Lake Harriet to families in several North neighborhoods and link Burroughs with a South neighborhood.

Changing School Options also opens Lyndale Community School to the East Harriet and Kingfield neighborhoods, both of which now lack a community school. Administrators predicted the changes would save the district about $9 million. An estimated 4,920 students, about 23 percent of the district, would change schools — less than in other versions of Changing School Options considered by the School Board.

The majority of Board members supported a limited period of “grandfathering” to lessen the impact on families. Parents would have the option to keep children in their current school, but would have to provide their own transportation.

A series of town hall meetings on Changing School Options were planned for the week of Sept. 14. For more information on the proposal, visit the district website (mpls.k12.mn.us).

Southwest schools boost district achievement results

Seven Minneapolis Public Schools in Southwest met goals for student proficiency in reading and math this year, up from six schools in 2008.

Across the district, 18 percent of schools met benchmarks for student achievement on state standardized tests this year, up from 14 percent last year. But the release in August of the list of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, targets proved to be a mixed bag for the district.

David Heistad, director of the district’s Research, Evaluation and Assessment Department, said more district schools made AYP, in part, because the district counted some small alternative schools toward its total for the first time this year. Also, Kenny Community School in Southwest and Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School on the city’s North Side made AYP for the first time in several years.

“It’s not something we’re bragging about, but it is kind of a lull in the new identification of schools” not make AYP, Heistad said.

At the same time, more district schools that repeatedly fell short of AYP will face restructuring. That is the most serious consequence for missing student achievement goals in an escalating series of sanctions set up under the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind law.

Schools can face sanctions when just one group of students fails to make AYP, even if standardized test scores for other students at the school are rising. Southwest’s Jefferson Community School, for example, will face restructuring this year even though the only group to fall short of testing goals in 2006 and 2007 was special education students.

Heistad said Jefferson’s predicament highlighted what many find unfair in the current design of No Child Left Behind. He anticipated those rules would change under an Obama administration.

“They may even change some of the consequences and make it less punitive,” he said. “They may emphasize things like getting extra tutoring help and not so much changing schools, because, at least under the current model, there are not going to be many schools left to send kids to.”