As the Spanish immersion program grows at Lowell Elementary School, available space for traditional students could soon be reduced to a single classroom. The Duluth school district's current boundary study aims to fix that issue.
Currently, there are 25 kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms in the Lowell building. The Spanish immersion program is K-3 but as the current third graders move up, the program must expand to accommodate them through fourth and fifth grade.
Lowell also hosts an Ojibwe immersion program that is currently K-5 and occupies six classrooms.
The Spanish program could occupy 18 classrooms upon full K-5 implementation, which would leave only one classroom for neighborhood students not in either program. According to the study, there are 159 students who live in the Lowell boundaries, attend Lowell and are not enrolled in either the Spanish or Ojibwe immersion programs.
The study lays out two options for Lowell: become a Spanish and Ojibwe immersion-only school with no boundaries or move the Ojibwe immersion program to Stowe Elementary.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth said Stowe was picked as a possible location for the Ojibwe program multiple reasons, including the school having a bigger school forest and being near the St. Louis River, where wild rice restoration efforts are happening.
If Lowell were to become an immersion-only school, its current boundary would have to be absorbed by one or more other schools. There are currently 312 students who live within the Lowell boundary, with 61 enrolled in the Spanish immersion program, 16 enrolled in the Ojibwe immersion program, 37 enrolled at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School and 39 enrolled in other Duluth elementary schools.
Matt Sachs of Cooperative Strategies presented preliminary boundary scenarios to the Duluth School Board on Monday night, including the possible changes to Lowell.
So far in the process, Sachs said 80 participants met Oct. 16 and 17 to develop draft boundary scenarios. Those 80 participants, who consisted of principals, teachers, parents and community members, developed 15 draft scenarios using an Excel worksheet created by Cooperative Strategies that would allow them to see what would happen as they changed the boundaries, moving students around from school to school.
Those 15 scenarios were whittled down to four by looking at which ones were feasible and aligned with district goals, Sachs said. Those four scenarios were presented to the School Board on Tuesday night and will go through focus groups this week.
The scenarios suggest the number of students moving as high as 1,425 to as low as 296. Every scenario offers some sort of change to Lowell and would drop live-in utilization of elementary schools to under 100%. According to the study, Congdon Park Elementary School is at 113.1%, and Lester Park Elementary School is at 110.7%.
Some scenarios suggest major changes. The second scenario, which suggests Myers-Wilkins and Congdon share a boundary and become a K-2 and a third- through fifth-grade school, respectively. This change would mean Myers-Wilkins would no longer be a racially identifiable school, or having more than 24% of the enrollment made up of protected students. CFO Cathy Erickson said this would result in the loss of $1.6 million in funds that are meant to help the district to correct this issue, but was set up a while back to be used to fund resources at the school.
The fourth scenario draws lines in a way that the enrollment and demographics at the middle and high school levels become more balanced.
There are also more simple changes suggested, such as having all elementary schools feed 100% to the same middle and high school. Right now, Lowell and Myers-Wilkins live-in students are split between Lincoln Park Middle School/Denfeld High School and Ordean East Middle School/East High School.
Sachs said all the scenarios are preliminary and fluid, so if the feedback he receives says people like a part of one scenario and a part of another scenario, both of those parts could become one scenario.
Sachs said after focus groups go through the four scenarios by the end of the week and offer feedback, he expects the options will be narrowed down to two to three, which will be presented to the community in open meetings Jan. 22-23. Recommendations will be developed in February, and the board should expect a final recommendation in the spring.
"The final recommendation that you will see at the end isn't here yet," Gronseth told the board Tuesday night. "There's still a lot of work to be done."