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Duluth's Myers-Wilkins Elementary School to add STEM program

A new plan that aims in part to desegregate Duluth’s Myers-Wilkins Elementary adds a schoolwide science, technology, engineering and math program.

The school — which this year holds the combined populations of the students from within its boundaries and those from the former Nettleton school — has long been classified as segregated, or “racially identifiable” by the state for its number of nonwhite students. This year that number is 54 percent.

The Duluth school district’s Office of Education Equity coordinator presented a new three-year “achievement and integration” plan to the School Board on Tuesday, which will be submitted to the state if the board approves it next week.

The state made changes to plan requirements, and one of those was for the district to spend its roughly $1.6 million in state integration money on achievement as well as desegregation efforts, said William Howes, the education equity coordinator, noting the amount of integration money continues to decrease.

“I was pleased to see achievement was a primary concern of the plan’s goal,” he said, to help narrow the performance disparities between various groups in district schools.

At Myers-Wilkins, a science, technology, engineering and math coordinator will be hired to train teachers so they can use STEM teachings to infuse other instruction, Principal Stephanie Heilig said.

She said the training takes about three years but will begin this summer. Each grade will do a service learning project connected to science, and related activities will spill into after-school and evening programs.

The goal is to not only attract students to the school but increase students’ performance in all areas, Heilig said.

“Schools that have implemented STEM over the years find academic achievement in science soars, along with reading,” she said, “because they are reading more nonfiction.”

The school has a goal to increase its state reading score from 45 percent to 72.5 percent by the end of the plan’s term.

Its goal for math is to increase from 59.5 percent to 79.8 percent. Its goal for black students — which at 27 percent is the largest nonwhite population at the school — is to increase reading scores from 32.6 percent to 66.3 percent in three years.

Parents asked for more hands-on science instruction at the school, along with partnerships with colleges and professionals in STEM careers, Heilig said.

“If we can get them excited about those kinds of things … I think it’s going to make a huge difference for kids,” she said.

The school is partnering with nearby Lowell Elementary, which will house the recently approved Ojibwe immersion program. That will begin with a kindergarten class, and continue with a grade added each year. Another plan goal is for half of the students in that first kindergarten class to be from the Myers-Wilkins boundary area to aid in desegregation efforts. Transportation will be provided for kids from Myers-Wilkins to Lowell, and from the Lowell boundary area to Myers-Wilkins. Last year Lowell’s number of nonwhite students was about 20 percent.

Other goals include increasing the numbers of nonwhite and low-income students who take advanced placement and honors classes, College in the Schools courses and the college entrance ACT exam.

Howes said he wanted to develop high-level courses that low-income and protected-class students might take. One of those is an Ojibwe language class at Denfeld High School and the Area Learning Center.

The role of integration specialists — the 11 staff members who work with minorities and low-income students — also has been tweaked to make them more active in the learning process of the students they work with, Howes said.

Superintendent Bill Gronseth said Howes has been “forward-thinking” with the new plan.

“We’ve been very bold, and made changes that need to be made,” he said.  

After a closed meeting, the board also approved for one year the expulsion of an Area Learning Center student because of a physical altercation involving a knife.