Duluth Public Schools administration brought forward a recommendation to the Duluth School Board on Tuesday for a possible implementation plan regarding boundary changes.

The administration recommended, at this time, to approach the boundary changes in a phased process. The first phase would be to make adjustments to the elementary schools and to make a decision regarding the immersion programs currently at Lowell Elementary School. The planning for the transitions would take place over the 2020-2021 school year for implementation in fall 2021, according to the recommendation.

“I think we could make some changes for fall 2020 to help some of our higher capacity schools with full enrollment balance implemented by fall 2021 (for elementary schools),” superintendent Bill Gronseth said.

The second phase would entail the creation of a workgroup to do more research and work on developing recommendations for secondary school boundaries or other strategies. Two proposed boundary changes would have Homecroft Elementary School feed into Lincoln Park Middle School and Denfeld High School.

The elementary school currently feeds into the eastern school system and many parents throughout the district have expressed disapproval of the change due to possible long bus rides for students.

“The boundary study only focused on the boundaries. It didn’t look at any other considerations or ideas to help with some of the issues we are facing,” Gronseth said. “There’s more work to be done around the equity conversations and our middle and high school enrollment numbers.”

The recommendation was for informational purposes only and not for action by the board at this time. A final boundary recommendation is expected to be presented to the School Board in April by Cooperative Strategies, the consultant hired to conduct the boundary study.

Ojibwe immersion families voice concerns

Families from the Misaabekong Ojibwe immersion program took a survey regarding possible changes to the program.

The Duluth school district is in the middle of a boundary study, which would be used to change the boundaries of the schools within the districts. One of suggested option in the boundary study was to move the Ojibwe immersion program from Lowell to Stowe Elementary School.

The survey was created, distributed and analyzed by Michele Statz and Bijan Warner, a couple with a daughter in the program in a kindergarten class.

“Like other Misaabekong parents, we were stunned and frankly really troubled by the suggestion of moving the program to Stowe,” Statz said. “I’m an anthropologist and Bijan is a data analyst, so we hoped that combining our skills might help demonstrate how important the program is to families and to Duluth more generally.”

The survey was sent to all families currently in the Ojibwe immersion program. According to the survey results, 51 of 68 students in the program were represented in survey responses with a total of 42 families responding. Nine respondents have two students currently enrolled in the program and 33 respondents have one child enrolled.

The survey questions touched on current travel distance, travel distance if the program was moved to Stowe, if the move would cause families to leave the program and why would those who responded no or not sure feel that they might have to leave the program if it were to move.

Edye Binesiikwe Washington, the coordinator of the American Indian Education Department at Duluth Public Schools and a founder of the Ojibwe immersion program, said the purpose of the survey was to make sure the small group of voices was heard loud and clear by the School Board.

“Yes the district had those public meetings, but often times our voices are not heard because there is not enough of us in attendance,” Washington said. “We think the families' input and what they have to say is very valuable as we move forward.”

According to the survey, 69% of respondents travel less than 5 miles to Lowell. If the program were to move, 56% of the respondents would have to travel 15 or more miles to Stowe. When asked if their child or children would be able to continue attending the program if it moved to Stowe, 49% of respondents said no and 41% said they weren’t sure.

For those who responded no or not sure, 81% of respondents said the commute will take too much time, 57% said the commute would be too costly and 46% said Stowe can’t offer the same opportunities for the program as Lowell can.

Washington said, with talking to people, she doesn’t believe moving the program to Stowe, which is closer to the Fond du Lac reservation, would help grow the program.

“Even if it would be closer to the reservation — at the moment we have probably two or three families coming from that area — there's still a barrier there regarding transportation,” she said.

The survey results were sent to all School Board members.