Schools notebook // School Board approves enrollment plan

School Board approves enrollment plan

A new middle school will open in the Tangletown neighborhood next fall as part of a $45-million Minneapolis Public Schools effort to manage increasing district enrollment.

The School Board on Nov. 29 approved an $18 million plan to reopen three shuttered school sites over the next two years and change the grade configurations of several other schools. Back in September, the School Board authorized $27 million in spending to expand two overcrowded elementary school buildings, including the lower campus of Lake Harriet Community School, 4030 Chowen Ave. S.

The district grew by about 330 students this year, its first enrollment gain in a decade. District officials think it may be just the beginning, though; the changes approved this fall will make space for an additional 2,000 K–8 students expected to arrive within the next five years.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said the goal was to reach 85 percent capacity in the district, so that the system is better able to absorb swings in enrollment. The district closed four schools just last school year.

Those school closings came at the tail end of a decade marked by enrollment losses, declines that hit other parts of the city much harder than Southwest. Many Southwest K–5 and K­–8 schools are at or near their capacity, and have been for years.

As students aged, pressure also grew on the middle schools — particularly Anthony Middle School in the Armatage neighborhood.

The new middle school will open at
1 W. 49th St., the school building currently occupied by Ramsey International Fine Arts Center. It will add an additional 600 middle school seats in Southwest and also fill in a missing step on the pathway students follow from Burroughs and Lyndale community schools to Washburn High School.

Meanwhile, the entire Ramsey program will be relocated to the currently unoccupied Folwell building in South, which is actually nearer to where the majority of Ramsey students live.

In the weeks before the vote, a coalition of Ramsey parents and staff developed a list of demands they hoped would ease the transition to a new location. One key demand was an earlier start time for the school that would allow for more after-school programming, such as tutoring, and the superintendent on Nov. 29 indicated the school’s start time would be moved up from 9:40 a.m.

The district will continue to monitor school crowding in Southwest, where the enrollment challenge is most acute. Unlike other parts of the city, there are no closed school buildings that can be reopened here.

Board Member Rebecca Gagnon said, by her count, only three Southwest schools were not over 100 percent of capacity.

“It’s a great problem to have, but it also has to be seriously addressed,” Gagnon said.

District staff initially proposed to convert Jefferson Community School in The Wedge to a K–5 school from its current K–8 configuration and relocate its middle grades to Anthoy. That proposal was dropped from the plan voted on in November; instead, school staff and district officials will work to carve more classroom space out of the Jefferson building.

If enrollment stays strong in Southwest, though, the district may have to revisit that decision or make other changes to accommodate students.

School Board Member Hussein Samatar was the only “nay” vote on the enrollment plan. Samatar questioned the choice to spend nearly $2 million more on re-opening the Howe building over the nearby Cooper building.

The third building slated to reopen is Webster, in Northeast. It is planned to reopen as a early childhood center in fall 2013, creating additional capacity in North and Northeast by allowing some early childhood programs to relocate from elementary schools.

———

Burroughs assistant principal honored

LYNNHURST — Frank Catchings Jr. of Burroughs Community School was named the state’s 2012 National Outstanding Assistant Principal in November by the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA).

As a part of the evaluation of this year’s nominees, Catchings was required to identify three of his most significant accomplishments at Burroughs. He cited: an extended-day program that boosted the reading and math skills of English-language learner students; the creation of two awards that regularly honor hard working students and teachers; and his efforts at Burroughs to raise awareness of the particular difficulties faced by homeless and highly mobile students.

Catchings led Burroughs teachers and staff on a tour of impoverished areas of the city’s North Side, including a visit two homeless shelters. He also regularly picks up and drops off students who otherwise wouldn’t have rides to and from school.

Catchings’ education career began in 1973 in Chicago, where he was a music teacher. He joined Minneapolis Public Schools in 1993 and had several postings before joining the Burroughs staff in 2005.