Boundary, programming studies continue in District 16

By Elyse Kaner
Staff Writer

District 16 is experiencing growing pains, especially in its elementary schools. Is it a fluke or will enrollment numbers level off? No one knows.

Either way, the district is preparing for what could otherwise be a crowded future.

Administrators and the school board continued to discuss boundaries and elementary programming, particularly the Spanish Immersion Program, in an update as part of the district’s effective operations portion of a Jan. 31 board work session.

Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said the district will take a full-fledged boundary change off the docket for next fall.

But why the need for change?

Near capacity

Enrollment in all three elementary schools is reaching near-capacity numbers.

Using former enrollment trends, the district had projected 50 new K-3 students for this and next year.

“What we actually saw … was 190 new students,” said Business Manager Amy Schultz. “We had 140 more students than anticipated.

“…So we don’t know if what we have seen from last year to this year, because it’s so different from what we saw a few years before that, how do you plan, and how do you go forward with a wide-spread boundary decision?…” Schultz said.

Schultz said 75 more single-family homes are planned to be built in Blaine in the next two years, which historically has yielded one elementary and one high school student per four households.

That would, most likely, translate to more students attending the school district.

The district’s K-3 schools, at an enrollment of 450 students, now have the largest elementary enrollment in the district’s history.

“In five years, what does that do to the Westwood complex? Especially when we look at the trends we’ve seen in the past couple of years.” Schultz said.

Denise Waalen, director of educational services, said enrollment is always hard to predict from one year to the next.

The economy may have an impact, she said. Some parents who can no longer afford to send their children to private school opt for public schools. Area charter schools enter into the mix as well as Spring Lake Park’s reputation as a school of opportunities.

The district has undergone a three-phase programming and boundary study since fall 2010.

The study addresses growth and placement of choice options in such programs as Spanish Immersion and the Lighthouse Program for the gifted.

The study also addresses efficient use of space and staff, reasonable bus or drive times between home and school and effectively managing current and future enrollment trends. Another goal is to impact as few students as possible.

Spanish Immersion

District 16 held a Spanish Immersion Program parent meeting Feb. 1.

The meeting addressed a programming and boundary study update.

In the meeting, parents were told a likely recommendation to the school board Feb. 14 would be that the immersion program will remain at Westwood Intermediate School for one more school year (2012-13).

The recommendation would depend on unanticipated changes in enrollment during the next several months.

Started in 2009, the K-2 program is now being housed at Westwood with plans to add one new class each year up to grade five.

The growing program, however, creates a space issue in a school facing near-capacity enrollment.

Housing the program at Westwood alleviated space concerns at Northpoint Elementary, which opened in 2008.

Had the immersion program not moved to Westwood, boundaries would have needed to be adjusted for the 2011-12 school year, according to a presentation given to parents.

Searching for space

The district continues to search for a spot for its expanding Spanish Immersion program.

Ronneberg said in the Jan. 31 work session, if the immersion program is moved to Park Terrace, it would need eight classrooms.

“We already know that Park Terrace would be the most likely site if we were to add classrooms,” Ronneberg said.

The district has developed plans in partnership with Wold Architects (the firm that designed the district’s renovation) for the past months to look into expansion.

Also, the district is looking into leasing a space for programs.

“Within our district boundaries, there’s not a facility big enough that we could have a K-5 program in it,” Ronneberg said at the Jan. 31 work session.

The district plans to make a recommendation to keep the Spanish Immersion Program at Westwood next year at its Feb. 14 regular school board meeting. A recommendation will be made to the school board on whether or not there would be any changes to its K-3 attendance boundaries at a Feb. 28 meeting.

“We could make full-fledged boundary changes right now, but my concern is that is something we would be revisiting in 24 months,” Ronneberg said at the work session.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]