Learning alternatives program in transition

The Spring Lake Park School District is busy finalizing a second partnership with Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916, one that affects the learning alternatives program.

Next year, the Spring Lake Park learning alternatives program will operate out of Metro Heights Academy, maintained by Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916, located at 7122 University Ave. NE, Fridley. Submitted photo

Next year, the Spring Lake Park learning alternatives program will operate out of Metro Heights Academy, maintained by Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916, located at 7122 University Ave. NE, Fridley. Submitted photo

For several years, Spring Lake Park and 916 have worked together to provide special education options for students in the district. Now, District 16 will contract with 916 to run the learning alternatives program.

Currently operating out of Spring Lake Park High School, the program will move to a new site next school year, Metro Heights Academy, 7122 University Ave. NE, Fridley. Spring Lake Park students will join students from Columbia Heights already attending classes there.

This move will offer educational and financial benefits, according to District 16’s Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development Ryan Stromberg.

“By having a consistent number of students both from Spring Lake Park and Columbia Heights, the resources will be there to potentially not only offer what we’ve traditionally offered, but also, hopefully, even more opportunities,” Stromberg said. “They’ll have the resources, and they’ll have the kids, they’ll have the numbers.”

Enrollment fluctuates in each of the six grading periods at Spring Lake Park. The program enrolls anywhere from 60 to 90 students at one time, according to Stromberg, so “it’s hard to manage a budget when dollars follow students.”

The dollars will continue to follow learning alternatives students when they move to 916, but the partnership will have no additional costs.

The district will ultimately save money, no longer paying for a support staff and all of the costs associated with maintaining a separate school, Stromberg said.

Most learning alternatives staff will not follow students to 916 and will have rights to other positions in Spring Lake Park, he said.

One educator has definite plans to make the move with students next year: Principal Kristen Hauge.

Hauge has worked for 916 for 11 years. She came to Spring Lake Park this summer to smooth the transition to Metro Heights Academy.

“A lot of our [learning alternatives] kids have enough transitions in their lives,” Hauge said at a school board meeting Nov. 12.

Under Hauge’s leadership this year and next, the students will have some consistency.

Night school classes are already meeting at the new site. Unless new students will graduate by the end of this school year, they, too, are being directed to Metro Heights to minimize changes in the coming year, Hauge said.

Currently 50 students, mostly from Columbia Heights, take classes at Metro Heights Academy. There is capacity for 100 students and room to expand, according to Hauge.

When learning alternatives students prepare to graduate under this new partnership, they can opt to receive a diploma from 916 or their home district. If a student wants a Spring Lake Park diploma, 916 educators ensure the proper graduation requirements are met, Hauge said.

More information will be rolled out to families in the spring as details are worked out.

“The decision to do this is always in the best interest for kids,” Stromberg said of the partnership with 916. “That’s what first and foremost always drives what we do”

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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