A community meeting Thursday at Denfeld High School regarding the Duluth school district’s boundary study was calmer and more structured than the night before.
Parents from both the east and west sides of town were in attendance. The meeting started with superintendent Bill Gronseth telling the crowd of more than 150 people how the meeting would be conducted. This was done in reaction to the meeting at East High School Wednesday night, which became heated at times.
“Tonight is about working together as a community,” Gronseth said.
Gronseth also gave background information on why the district is engaging in a study now and what is driving it. He said the district did a study in 2014 and the School Board at the time decided there was no need to change the boundaries.
Another study was done again in 2017, which showed there was some need to shift enrollment but instead of moving the boundaries, the district decided to add programs at schools with low enrollment to entice people to those schools.
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An example of one of those programs is the immersion program at Lowell Elementary School.
“That program worked almost too well, so now Lowell is reaching capacity,” Gronseth said.
The shifting demographics in neighborhoods have caused schools on the eastern reaches of the Duluth school district to become overcrowded, with the worst being Congdon Elementary School, at 108.8% of capacity, and Lester Park Elementary, at 98.1%.
After the Gronseth spoke, Matt Sachs of Cooperative Strategies gave a presentation and answered some questions before attendees broke out into smaller groups to discuss among themselves what they liked and disliked about each scenario.
Many conversations were geared toward "Denfeld pride." Many western parents and staff, in their groups, expressed disappointment in what was said about their schools at the East High School meeting Wednesday night. Those same groups also discussed the challenges of transportation for Homecroft Elementary School families if the school was to feed into Lincoln Park Middle School and Denfeld.
“This is all about balancing transportation and demographics between schools,” a Denfeld parent said.
Lindsay Kern lives in the Piedmont Elementary School boundaries and has two students in the western school system who wouldn’t be affected by any of the current proposed boundaries. Though her students would most likely not be affected by any changes made, she said she agrees that having all of the Homecroft students feed into the western school system might not be the best idea.
“What I've heard tonight is that there is an alignment between eastern Duluth and western Duluth, that no one thinks that it's the best solution to have Homecroft students traveling that long of a distance,” she said.
Kern said she would like to see more diversity throughout the schools, though she understands the socio-economic and geographical challenges the district faces. She believes changing the boundaries is the only way to desegregate.
“As a community, even though it's hard, we need to do what is best for all of the kids in the district,” she said. “It's really hard not to do what is just best for your child but I really believe that if we worked as a community to do what is best for all of the students, we would, in turn, be doing what is best for our own children as well.”
Denfeld senior Emma Natale said she also believes doing what is best for the whole district is the best way to approach the possible boundary changes, whether those changes are drastic or not.
“Ideally, upperclassmen would be able to stay in their current school and finish out, but if a 10th grader had to move for the betterment of the whole then we should make that change,” Natale said.
Though Natale would not be affected by any changes to the boundaries as she is set to graduate in June, she does have a little sister who currently attends Denfeld and could possibly have to transfer to East.
Natale was one of the students in a focus group in October who looked over various scenarios. She was excited about the opportunity to be a part of the process and at the thought of balancing enrollment between Denfeld and East.
“We're one city. There should be equal opportunity between both high schools. And that goes from both perspectives,” Natale said. “For example, there's not as much diversity at East and the class sizes can be overwhelmingly huge, and at Denfeld, the opportunity is lacking, especially with AP and CITS classes. So it's amending both of those issues by making it more equal between the schools.”
Natale said she has heard some of the rhetoric out there that Denfeld is a worse school and she wholeheartedly disagrees.
“That's a biased opinion that they shouldn't have considering that we are receiving a good education, we have smart and successful students, and we have people involved in the community,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities at Denfeld. There's no reason you shouldn't want your student to come here.”
Those unable to attend the meetings can give their opinions on the scenarios through a survey, which can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/ISD709. The survey closes Feb. 3 at 8 a.m.
Residents can find out how each scenario affects them by visiting myschoollocation.com/isd709scenarios and entering their address.