More enrollment for Minneapolis public schools: That’s a good thing, right?


UPDATED 10/27/2011 —Is public school enrollment rising or falling in Minneapolis? Last year, falling enrollment was one reason given for MPS closing schools and rearranging busing and attendance boundaries. (You remember – that was the Changing School Options plan.) This year, MPS says enrollment is rising, so they plan to re-open schools. What’s going on?

By 2015, MPS projects increased enrollment of 2,030-3,300 students in K-8. The increases are not evenly distributed. The greatest area of growth is Zone 3/Area C — Southwest Minneapolis — where enrollment is projected to grow by 1,200-1,900 students. Zone 2/Area B in south Minneapolis is expected to gain 650-1,050 students, with North/Northeast (Zone 1/Area A) growing only a little — 180-350 students, mostly in Northeast.

Increasing enrollment sounds like a good thing, but it means more changes in schools, pathways and busing in 2012. The Minneapolis Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) proposals for major changes in enrollment patterns in November, after completion of community discussion sessions during October.

MPS has proposed several changes, some of which — especially Ramsey, Sheridan, Jefferson and Wellstone schools — have generated questions in the community. MPS has a question page for parents to tell their concerns about the moves.

The MPS Enrollment Strategies proposal, dated 9/26/2011 (pdf at end of article), was the basis for community discussions held in October. At this point, it looks like the proposal that will be presented to the school board, and it’s the basis for the description of changes below.


Reporting the story

As a reader, you might wonder why this is posted as a blog entry rather than as a reported article. That’s a good question.

My personal standards for reporting an article include talking to the people involved. Information for this article came mostly from MPS  and Minnesota Department of Education documents and websites. In this case, as in many instances involving public schools, talking to actual school district staff proved difficult.

As usual, MPS officials who are actually involved in programs were unavailable for comment. Phone calls got voicemail routing and leaving messages got no response.

The usual procedure for MPS is for all inquiries to be routed to the Communications Department, rather than to the people who might be closer to the answer — say, the principal of a school or the director of the ELL department. Five days after the communications department promised to find someone for me to talk to about ELL questions, I still had no response. An inquiry to the Minnesota Department of Education about ELL got basically the same (non)response: “All media inquiries are referenced to our Communications Department. Please look for a response from them.”

I’m not holding my breath — but if I get a response, I’ll add it to this blog post.

Highlights of proposed changes

In North and Northeast Minneapolis

• Jenny Lind becomes a K-5 and Olson a 6-8 middle school, which would mean moving 5th grade (58 students) from Olson to Jenny Lind in 2012.

• Sheridan Arts, currently a K-8 arts magnet, would become a K-5 magnet, with 6-8th grade students moving to Northeast middle school. That would affect 195 5th-7th graders in 2012.

At the high school level:

• Nellie Stone Johnson & Lucy Laney graduates would go to North High School unless an alternative request is made. Currently, Henry is the default high school for these students. This would affect 122 8th-graders in 2012.

In South Minneapolis

• Howe, which is currently closed, would re-open for grades 3-5, with Hiawatha becoming PreK-2nd grade only. 134 3rd-5th graders would move in 2012.

• Lake Nokomis is a dual campus, Wenonah K-3 and Keewaydin 4-8 that pathways to Roosevelt High School. MPS will “invest in Keewaydin.”

In Southwest Minneapolis

• Lake Harriet is a dual campus, and would expand under MPS plans.

• Jefferson would change from K-8 to K-5, with middle school students going to Anthony Middle School with an option to attend Anwatin Middle School. This would move 161 6-8 graders in 2012. Jefferson staff has made an alternative proposal to review the use of space in the building, including the ELL, Special Education, Early Childhood and Community Education Departments, and make creative changes to keep all Jefferson students there in a K-8 school.

• Ramsey would become a new middle school, receiving students from Lyndale and Burroughs.

Two special cases

Wellstone International High School — Currently, ELL Level 1 and 2 middle and high school students are spread across a number of schools. Wellstone International High School is the only international high school for students ages 14 to 21 years. There is no international middle school program. MPS proposes to expand Wellstone to become the 6-12 ELL International Newcomers School, affecting 75 middle school and 100 high school students in 2012.

Wellstone, which is located at 4029 28th Ave. S., had about 100 students in 9-12 grades during the 2010-2011 school year, with more than 95 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunch and more than 95 percent classified as English Language Learners. Their mobility was higher than that of students in the district as a whole, with 51 percent enrolled at Wellstone for the full year, compared to 81 percent for the district. Despite high mobility, their attendance was also higher, with 65 percent of Wellstone students hitting the “95 plus” attendance mark set by the district, compared to 53 percent for the district as a whole. The ethnic breakdown showed 54 percent African American and 30 percent Hispanic American, with the remainder split between Asian American (seven percent) and White American (9 percent).

[Minnesota Department of Education guidelines say there are four ELL levels: beginning, intermediate, advanced and transitional — but that’s outdated information, according to MPS – see below.]

More from MPS

After this article was published, the MPS Communications Department told the folks involved with ELL  that the Daily Planet had questions for them. Jana Hilleren called and offered information and clarifications. First, the information on the Minnesota Department of Education website about ELL levels is out of date: the district and the state now use the WIDA — World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment — standards for ELL, which have six levels, rather than the four listed on the MDE website.

“Newcomers,” who are Level 1 and 2 students will be enrolled at Wellstone. Level 1 and 2 students who are already enrolled at other schools will stay there, according to Hilleren. That’s important news, as ELL students make up 23.2 percent of all students, according to the district fact sheet. Roosevelt and Edison high schools have small numbers of Level 1 and 2 students now, according to Elleren, as do some middle schools. 

“Obviously we don’t want to disrupt students, so we will be looking at newly enrolled students and encouraging them to come to Wellstone because it will meet their needs,” said Elleren, who also emphasized that MPS wants family input as they move forward with planning. She noted that the ELL department has Hmong, Spanish and Somali speaking outreach workers, and said parents can email or call him at 612-668-531.

Ramsey Fine Arts Magnet School — The Ramsey Fine Arts magnet program would move from its current Southwest location at 1 West 49th Street to the Folwell building, located at 3611 20th Ave S. in South Minneapolis. Ramsey’s current location — 1 West 49th Street — would become a new middle school, receiving students from Lyndale and Burroughs.

The Fine Arts program is a K-8 magnet program, with busing from anywhere in the district for its current K-8 enrollment of approximately 1000 students. It would remain a magnet with district-wide busing. The capacity of the Folwell building is 900 students, and MPS says the decrease “will occur naturally through the ‘summer withdrawal rate’ the number of students who do not return after the summer.”

Ramsey’s enrollment is heavily Hispanic, with 2010-2011 figures (the most recent available from the MPS website) showing 42.4 percent Hispanic American enrollment, 35.1 percent African American enrollment, 14.3 percent White American, 4.7 percent Asian American, and 3.4 percent Native American. That compares to 2010-2011 district percentages of 18.06 percent Hispanic American enrollment, 37.09 percent African American enrollment, 31.86 percent White American, 8.16 percent Asian American, and 4.83 percent Native American.

MPS has a page for parents to ask questions and voice concerns about the moves, and has held a series of community meetings in October.