Eden Prairie Schools– Past, Present, and Most Importantly, the Future
Over the past two years much work has been done by many dedicated community members, Eden Prairie school district staff, and the School Board resulting in the decisions to change the grade configuration to K-6 and to redraw our elementary school boundaries. As I reflect on where we are today and where we can be tomorrow, I would like to share my perspective on the journey.
It is the fiduciary responsibility of the School Board and of the administration to make sure that the district is maximizing its return on financial investment and our students’ return on educational investment for all of the resources at our disposal, including our brick and mortar buildings. Board policies dictate that a 5-year plan be in place to ensure that our buildings are used efficiently. Almost three years ago it was time to update that plan.
At that time, several things were true:
- We had buildings in the northern part of Eden Prairie with available space because there are fewer children in that part of the city and we had buildings in the southern part of Eden Prairie that were full because there are more families with young children in that part of the city.
- The district was spending money to lease space for programs and administrative functions when we would have space available if how we use our buildings was reconfigured.
- Citizens of Eden Prairie wanted to take advantage of district programs such as pre-school but given where these programs were located we didn’t have the space to satisfy the needs of families in the community.
So, administrative staff and community members, working with experts in the use and configuration of school district facilities, set out to develop a 5-year facilities plan that would address the issues outlined above and, even more importantly, create a learning environment that would meet the needs of how we teach children today and in the future to result in optimal achievement for all students.
At the end of this process I supported the K-6 configuration for the following reasons:
- Eden Prairie, along with several districts in the metro area, had the lowest 5th grade test scores in the metro area. The common factor among these low scoring districts was an additional transition in the elementary years. Data and research show that when kids transition, test scores decline. An additional transition negatively impacts all kids, but impacts those who must achieve at a faster pace in order to catch up even more.
- The K-6 plan means that we can expand programs to meet the demands of families inEden Prairieand we can reduce costs by eliminating the need to lease space.
- This reconfiguration gives us the opportunity to innovate and leap frog other districts by implementing additional best practices and integrating the key elements of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum in all of our elementary schools. This is imperative to make sure that our children and our country can be globally competitive.
After the Board voted to approve the K-6 configuration in February 2010, 4 task forces were formed to work on the details of implementing this decision. The first task force to make a recommendation was the 6th school identity task force. Their job was to determine whether the new elementary school to be located in the current Oak Point building would be a boundaried school or a destination school. I supported their recommendation that it be a boundaried school for these reasons:
- Data fromEden Prairie and around the nation indicates that destination/charter/magnet schools do not result in increased student achievement.
- Community feedback via surveys and focus groups did not indicate a high level of interest on the part of the community in a destination school (STEM, arts magnet, etc.).
- Data from the metro area and the nation indicates that destination schools tend to be segregated which does not support the achievement of all students.
The second task force to bring forward a recommendation was the boundary committee. I support the current map because:
- It is sustainable – as we can plainly see, boundary changes are difficult and emotional for all concerned. As such, we must look ahead and make major changes infrequently as opposed to tinkering around the edges every year or two.
- Boundaries are the most direct and sustainable way to create balanced demographics in all of our elementary schools which will result in greater achievement for all students. When teachers have too few or too many children of a certain sub-group in their class it makes it more challenging for them to address the needs of that group. More importantly, when there are too few children of a particular sub-group in a class, kids feel isolated. Isolation negatively impacts children in many ways, not the least of which being in their ability to achieve academically.
The final two teams to bring plans forward were the 5-6 instructional program distribution and the K-6 ideas and possibilities task forces. These teams brought forward recommendations for distributing programs like orchestra and band to all of our elementary schools. The ideas and possibilities task force brought forward a plan to implement STEM classrooms in all elementary schools which was such a popular choice with parents that the initial number of STEM classrooms was increased.
Per Governing Culture Policy 3:
The Board’s job is to represent, lead and serve the stakeholders (students, parents, staff and EP community members) and to govern the organization by establishing expectations for student achievement and quality operational performance, and monitoring actual performance against those expectations.
I take my job very seriously and have carefully listened to the feedback I have received over the past two years. I make my decisions with two goals in mind: first, creating the best educational outcomes for ALL students in Eden Prairie, today and in the future; second, addressing the achievement gap, not only because we are bound by law to do so (No Child Left Behind), but more importantly because it is the right thing to do.
I believe that the School Board needed to do its job and govern. For me that meant making the hard decisions and being held accountable to ensure that expectations for student achievement are met.
As I thoughtfully listened to feedback and considered important Board votes over the past two years, these thoughts were uppermost in my mind:
- Justice delayed is justice denied.
- I will not turn a blind eye to injustice for the sake of harmony among adults. (Paraphrased from a quote by Michelle Rhee, chancellor ofWashington,D.C.public schools.)
- We have an obligation and a responsibility to be investing in our students and our schools. We must make sure that people who have the grades, the desire and the will, but not the money, can still get the best education possible. – Barack Obama
- It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task. – Robert Kennedy
Thank you for taking the time to consider my perspective.