A middle school in the making

Principal, program decisions expected soon for new Ramsey Middle School

UPDATE: The district announced Bancroft Principal Paul Marietta would lead the new Ramsey Middle School late Feb. 1. For more on Marietta and his plans for the new school, see this Southwest Journal web update posted Feb. 2.

TANGLETOWN — By the time you read this, Ramsey Middle School should have a principal.

Candidates to lead the new middle school met with an interview team led by Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle in mid-January, and Battle said the new principal would be named Feb. 1 — just as this issue of the Southwest Journal was going to press. But choosing a new principal is really just the beginning for Ramsey in its race to be ready for August, when its first class walks through the doors.

In meetings between prospective Ramsey parents and district leaders in January, it was clear many of those parents were less concerned with the who than the what or how; not who the principal will be — although that’s clearly important — but what the school’s academic program will look like and how it will offer a true middle school experience in its first couple of years, when it won’t yet have a full staff or a full three grades of students.

“Everyone is nervous until they see those first steps,” said David Weingartner, a Lyndale Community School parent whose fourth-grade daughter is on track join Ramsey in its second school year.

First steps will come quickly in early February; details on the school’s academic program are expected at about the same time a principal is named. That principal will have a central role in many of the key decisions to follow, including the mix of classes offered at Ramsey and hiring decisions for the new middle school.

Ramsey was expected to enroll about 170–220 sixth graders for the 2012–2013 school year, drawing mainly from the Lyndale and Burroughs community schools. The school will add seventh grade in 2013–2014 and an eighth grade in 2014–2015, when enrollment is projected to reach 600–850 students.

Staffing questions

The district is prepared to spend more than $1 million to get Ramsey up and running, including $864,500 in start-up support over the next three years. School funding allocations are largely based on a per-pupil formula, and since Ramsey won’t offer all three grades until fall 2014, the start-up funds will give its principal the dollars needed to fully staff the school and offer a range of extra-curricular activities.

The hiring rules Ramsey’s new principal will work under hinge on whether or not the school is awarded “new program status,” an issue that was the subject of negotiations between the district and its teachers union in January. If new program status is agreed upon, the Ramsey principal could begin the interview-and-select hiring process ahead of other district schools this spring, explained Dan Loewenson, the district’s acting human resources director.

Ramsey’s staff during the start-up period is likely to include some part-time faculty. It’s not uncommon for some district teachers to work in multiple buildings, but Ramsey’s proximity to Washburn High School has raised the possibility that high school teachers could split their time between the two buildings, which are separated only by Washburn’s football field.

District specialist Courtney Cushing Kiernat said the two schools would “not necessarily” share staff, but added it was “one of the options” a Ramsey principal will consider.

Shaping the academics

But what kind of school will Ramsey’s new principal and staff be running? That decision is up to Chief Academic Officer Emily Puetz, who ultimately determines the shape of Ramsey’s academic program.

During a crowded parent-teacher association meeting at Burroughs in January, parents asked if Rasmey might have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focus, or if it would offer the International Baccalaureate program like nearby Anthony Middle School. Puetz wouldn’t offer details in January, although she did note the International Baccalaureate organization “does not support” bringing its Middle Years Programme to new schools.

“The bottom line is any of those approaches have to still address the rigorous state standards that are in place for all kids,” Puetz said.

High expectations

“Rigor” was the buzzword among parents like Kip Wennerlund, who has a third-grade student at Burroughs and older children at Anthony and Washburn. The new school’s academic program was Wennerlund’s “main concern,” he said.

“I’m hoping to see parents who are excited that their kids are going [to Ramsey] because their kids are being challenged academically,” he said.

Yassin Qanyare, father of a Lyndale fifth grader, said he expected a school and principal that would “go for the next level” with students, especially those young learners struggling to keep up with classmates.

“The expectation is high,” Qanyare said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com.