District enrollment plan evolves

“Version 2.0” responds to parent concerns but also raises new ones

Anwatin parents warned a plan to move its dual-immersion Spanish program would be devastating to the middle school. Credit: Dylan Thomas

[This story was updated Nov. 20 after district staff reversed a previous decision on the dual-immersion Spanish program at Anwatin Middle School.]

A new version of Minneapolis Public Schools’ plan to manage increasing enrollment soothed some concerns raise by parents and stoked others when it was presented to the School Board Nov. 12.

In one corner of Southwest, parents and school leaders at Ramsey Middle School got their wish, with district staff agreeing to delay by one year the implementation of a dual-campus model with nearby Washburn High School. But in another, parents at Anwatin Middle School were alarmed by a new proposal to relocate its dual-immersion Spanish program, a step some warned would starve the school of students and resources.

Both proposals were included in what district staff called “version 2.0” of an enrollment plan that debuted in its original form in September. The modifications came after nearly 1,100 people gave feedback on the plan in a series of community meetings held across the district in October.

The plan continues to evolve. A week after the Anwatin proposal was announced, the district backed off of the recommendation. 

The 34,000-student district is projecting enrollment to grow nearly 3,400 students, or 10 percent, by 2017. District staffers say both new academic programs and investments in existing facilities are needed to accommodate the growth.

The estimated cost of the plan comes in at nearly $233 million over five years. Just over two-thirds of that amount ($160 million) is targeted to capital improvements, while the rest ($72.7 million) is the projected cost of the added educational programs, including teacher salaries. 

Controversial expansion plan

Version 2.0 retained many of the elements of the original enrollment plan, including a proposal to expand full-day kindergarten to the few remaining Southwest-area schools that only offer half-day programs. Controversially, staff is still backing an estimated $40-million expansion of Southwest High School, a proposal met with “mixed reviews across the board” at community meetings, according to Ruben Vazquez of the district’s enrollment planning team.

School Board member Carla Bates said she was “absolutely opposed” to the building addition, adding that it was “inappropriate” when the district had yet to develop a unified vision for its secondary programs. But LeAnn Dow, another member of the planning team, said the high school needed the increased capacity because of an enrollment bulge already making its way through Southwest-area primary schools.

The district’s Wilder building at 3345 Chicago Ave. S. may help relieve some of that enrollment pressure by drawing Southwest students to new citywide programs. One of them could be an audition-based performing arts high school, but as of November the theme and location of that citywide high school were up in the air.

Changes

In fact, the plan for Wilder continued to change even after the introduction of enrollment plan 2.0. It may house a “talent development and advanced learner school” for grades 1–5 and several other programs.

The Wilder building, located on the western edge of the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, has proved to be a lynchpin in the district’s enrollment plan, as evidenced by the shifting designs for the site.

Under the original enrollment plan, Wilder was proposed to house a pre-K–5 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program. If successful, the magnet school for Southwest-area students would relieve enrollment pressure on crowded community schools by drawing several hundred Southwest children.

The magnet school was dropped from version 2.0, only to reappear a week later. The specific theme for the school, though, remains to-be-determined.

At the same time, the district reversed another version 2.0 recommendation, one that had the middle grades dual-immersion Spanish program housed at Anwatin since 2010 moving to Wilder. That plan, too, was scrapped after Anwatin parents like Liz Short, who serves on the school’s site council, warned of devastating consequences.

Dual-immersion students at two elementary schools, Emerson and Windom, follow a defined district pathway to Anwatin. Severing that tie, Short warned, would cost Anwatin two of its main “feeder” schools, sapping it of students and resources.

Another version 2.0 recommendation, to reopen North’s Franklin Middle School, would reroute students from Bethune, a third elementary that sends students to Anwatin.

“This leaves Anwatin in a situation very similar to North High School in which you take away most of the feeders and you don’t leave enough students for a vibrant program,” she said.

At a Nov. 19 meeting with immersion families, district staff proposed to offset the Bethune decision’s impact by giving Anwatin another feeder school: Sheridan in Northeast, where a dual-immersion program is slated to open in 2015.

The board is scheduled to vote on some version of the enrollment plan in December, and the plan is likely to continue evolving. At the Nov. 12 School Board meeting, Michael Goar, the district’s chief executive officer, noted another series of community meetings were set to begin the following week.

“It is about gathering all the information from all the different stakeholders,” Goar said.

[CORRECTION: A previous version of this story contained two inaccuracies based on incorrect information provided by the district’s communications office just before press time. As of Nov. 20, the proposal for a talent development and advanced learner school at Wilder had not been dropped from the plan and the pK–5 magnet school also proposed for the Wilder site had no specified theme.]