Schools notebook: Washburn turf

Washburn awarded turf grant from NFL program

TANGLETOWN — The campaign to convert Washburn High School’s football field to a synthetic turf surface got a $200,000 boost from the National Football League’s Grassroots program in September.

The grant award was a significant step in Minneapolis Public Schools’ Team Up for Turf campaign, which aims to raise the $2.2 million required to convert both the Washburn and Patrick Henry high school football fields to synthetic turf. Exceeding that goal might mean the district converts other fields, as well.

Washburn Athletic Director Dan Pratt said the natural grass now covering MacQuarrie Field was “in good shape” for fall football season. But the demands of the school year take a toll.

“It is just a field that is in high demand and we’re not able to give it the rest it needs,” Pratt said.

Right in the middle of a fully developed neighborhood, Washburn has no room to add practice field. That means Washburn football players sometimes practice in the mall area between the school and the football field to give the grass a rest, he said.

“When you practice on the field, you’re just not giving it the time it needs to look nice and pristine for games,” he explained.

Washburn added sports programs in recent years, increasing use of the field. The Millers varsity girls’ lacrosse team now plays some games on MacQuarrie field, and a community-based rugby team that draws many of its players from South and Southwest neighborhoods would like to use the field for practice, Pratt added.

If the Team Up for Turf campaign is successful, the conversion of both the Washburn and Henry fields will make them the first artificial playing fields in the district. Most suburban schools and some St. Paul schools already play on synthetic surfaces, Pratt said.

The Grassroots program is a nationwide initiative by the NFL Youth Football Fund to create and rehabilitate playing fields in underserved communities. It is coordinated through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, which identifies the fields and schools that need attention.

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Johnson recommits to reading goal

Raising kindergarten reading proficiency rates will remain a priority for Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson during her second year in office, the district reported in September.

Johnson set an ambitious goal at the beginning of last school year, her first as superintendent: get all of the district’s kindergarteners reading at a basic level by winter break. Only about 60 percent of kindergarten students reached “level B” reading ability at the mid-year point, but by year’s end about 76 percent were reading at or above “level C,” Johnson’s overall goal.

The district reported those kindergarten students who fell short at the end of last school year were recruited into summer school programs with a focus on reading skills. And the district will continue to track and work with those students now in first grade who did not reach the kindergarten reading goal.

Reading at grade level by the third grade is considered a critical benchmark for students and predictor of future academic success.

Study would examine Lake Harriet crowding

A feasibility study proposed by district staff would consider options for dealing with increasing enrollment at increasingly crowded Lake Harriet Community School.

Staff described a fast-track process for the study at a Sept. 6 School Board work session, where they identified Lake Harriet as one of three “high priority schools” for facilities improvements based on their existing buildings and projected demand, along with the Lake Nokomis and Pratt community schools. Staff members planned to seek School Board approval for the study at the Sept. 27 School Board meeting, with the goal of completing the study in about two months, instead of more typical three- or four-month period.