Defining arts

Ramsey parents push ahead of district in planning for fall

TANGLETOWN — This much Ramsey parents know: Next fall, Ramsey International Fine Arts Center will be one of two district magnet schools with an arts focus.

What they don’t know is what, exactly, it will mean to be an arts magnet school. Will current vocal and instrumental music offerings expand? Will there be dance? What about the visual arts?

As 2009 drew to a close, a group of Ramsey parents gathered to do what they said the Minneapolis Public Schools officials had not: assemble a detailed curriculum proposal for the 2010–2011 school year.

The Dec. 29 meeting included members of Ramsey’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) — a group, members said, Ramsey administrators no longer recognized. Ramsey PTO Chair Jessica Lee said she worried ongoing conflict between school administration, the PTO and the school’s foundation had hampered planning for next fall.

Jackie Turner, the district’s executive director of family engagement, said much of that work would take place this spring, after the district fills a new magnet school coordinator position and hires an “industry expert” to consult on the curriculum for Ramsey and the other district arts magnet, Sheridan, located in Northeast. But that wasn’t soon enough for some Ramsey parents.

The looming school choice deadline gave Ramsey PTO members a sense of urgency. Requests for placement in the district’s elementary and middle schools are due Jan. 31.

Lee, who had three children enrolled at Ramsey, said she could better recruit new families to the K–8 school if she had a clear idea of what the arts programming would look like next fall.

“My kids have been there for seven years, and I don’t have a clear idea of what the programs are currently,” she said.

Other priorities

Stan Alleyne, the district’s director of communications and marketing, denied that any conflict between Ramsey administrators and the PTO was holding up planning.

“We do plan to engage the parents in the community, those who are interested in this issue and improving the school,” Alleyne said.

For now, though, district efforts to prepare for 2010–2011 are focused on schools that will experience the most dramatic changes next fall. That’s when a cost-saving district restructuring plan known as Changing School Options goes into effect, altering program offerings and attendance areas for many district schools.

As a member of the district’s Transition Team, Turner visited with parents and staff at those schools most impacted by Changing School Options beginning this fall. The arts magnets, though, faced fewer changes and were a lower priority.

“The timing with both Ramsey and Sheridan has taken a little bit longer than some of the others, I think because their [program] is already defined and it’s in place,” she said.

“There has been work that’s been going on behind the scenes,” she added. “We haven’t gone out yet … with the larger community to start specifically defining Ramsey and Sheridan, but we’ve been trying to put a framework in place from the curriculum standpoint.”

Defining arts

Earlier this school year, Ramsey parent Lena Knutson joined a tour of the school for prospective families. Knutson said she wanted to hear what they were being told about the arts program at Ramsey.

“They just don’t tell them anything,” she said. “They just [say,] ‘We have strings and band.’”

Knutson, who attended the December PTO meeting, said Ramsey needed an arts curriculum that set it apart from other schools with similar offerings — a curriculum that truly lived up to the arts magnet billing.

Turner said Changing School Options was meant, in part, to do just that. The restructuring plan calls for magnets to receive additional resources to implement their specialized educational themes.

She said parents and community members would be involved in developing the programs at both of the district’s arts magnets, and expected many of the details to be hammered out by this spring.

“Really, at this point, what we thought made sense is that we just define Ramsey and Sheridan as just arts [magnets,]” she said. “We’ll have to go deeper to see if we’re going to be able to define it as a ‘fine arts’ or as a ‘performing arts’ or as a visual arts program.”

Some Ramsey parents, though, are anxious to resolve those questions sooner, rather than later.

“There is a group of us who are so willing and devoted and want to help,” Lee said.

They’re just waiting, she added, for someone to ask.