Proposed Ramsey School Move Meets Opposition
Parents are worried teachers will leave school.
A plan to create a new middle school in the building currently occupied by the Ramsey International Fine Arts Center magnet school is running into significant opposition from Ramsey's parents.
Thursday night, around 80 parents came to Ramsey's auditorium looking for reassurance from the district that the plan wouldn't harm their children's education. Many of those parents also wanted to give administrators a piece of their mind.
District leaders had hoped to avoid this problem: moving Ramsey is the keystone holding together the district's plan to deal with a ballooning number of middle-schoolers projected to begin arriving next year on Anthony Middle School's doorstep. According to a handout passed out at the Thursday night meeting, Anthony is projected to see between 60 and 94 more students at the start of next school year. The district aims to move Ramsey's arts magnet program to the old Folwell Middle School building near South High School, and fill the Ramsey building with a new middle school primarily serving students from Lyndale and Burroughs elementary schools.
"We did not come to this (plan) lightly," said Courtney Cushing-Kiernat, the district's point person on crowding issues, as she began her presentation. "We know this is hard for Ramsey parents to hear."
Many parents at the meeting said they felt like the proposal had been sprung on them only a few weeks ago. Others bluntly questioned whether they were being asked to move because parents from Lake Nokomis and Lake Harriet Community Schools, who are splitting $32 million from the district to build additions on their over-crowded buildings, had more clout with administrators.
"We were told multiple times that (district officials) met with Ramsey parents, but that was only a handful of parents," said Ramsey parent Sandi Likely.
Jill Boogren, a parent leader at Ramsey, pointed to communication problems stemming from the school's still-new PTA and the challenge of spreading the word at the mostly Latino, mostly immigrant school.
"You have a population where parents can't come here and advocate for their kids because they're working two jobs, because (the students) are foster kids, or (the parents) don't speak English," explained Alison Dunkelberger, another Ramsey parent leader. "If the district had been more forthcoming from the beginning, we could have made a coalition with them."
Plan's Future In Doubt?
The Ramsey parents' opposition could bear fruit, despite the urgency of the situation. District officials have set an early-November deadline to deliver a recommendation on Ramsey to the school board. That has turned the heat up on planners and teachers to sell the proposal to parents faced with choosing schools in January 2012.
Dunkelberger and other parent leaders say many teachers at Ramsey are demoralized by the uncertainty surrounding the move. If the more senior teachers decide to request transfers to other schools around the district, that would disintegrate the team that has slowly turned Ramsey around from its past as a nearly-failing school.
"We have to move forward right away," said school board member Rebecca Gagnon. "We just have to get it right, which includes having the support of the majority of the (Ramsey) teachers and staff."