School district enrollment decline slows

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

After dropping for several years, enrollment at Forest Lake area schools is nearly holding steady.

Enrollment can vary throughout the year, but on Oct. 1 of each year an official count is made. This year’s October enrollment total is 6,664, compared to 6,677 last year.

District staff had predicted that the decline would be 100 students, as it has been for the last seven years. Superintendent Linda Madsen said that elementary enrollment is down 23 students, and there will be fewer kindergartners next year. But over all 13 grades, the enrollment drop is only 13 students.

Why the improvement? Foreign language offerings may be a factor.

Lakes International Language Academy (LILA) draws students from several districts, including District 831. About two-thirds of the 700 students attending LILA live in the Forest Lake school district.

Located in the former District Memorial hospital building, this tuition-free charter school offers an International Baccalaureate curriculum with instruction in Spanish or Chinese.

But now the school district has partial immersion programs in Spanish at two elementary schools, Forest View and Lino Lakes, and this year began offering Chinese as a foreign language option at the secondary level. The district also has programs in place for seventh-grade students who re-enter district schools after finishing elementary school at LILA.

Other changes happening at Lino Lakes Elementary may also figure in.

In his presentation to the school board on Oct. 4, Principal Ron Burris said that, because of its preschool and child care programs, Lino Lakes serves children from age 0 to sixth grade, and child care participation has doubled over the last year.

The school also offers a robotics curriculum in grades 5 and 6 plus an after-school Lego League robotics program.

Lino Lakes became a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) school in 2011. Burris said the more than 1,000 hours of STEM in-service teacher training received last year is being integrated into the classroom this year.

The school was named a Celebration school for its recent test scores.

To address discipline issues, Burris said, the Parenting with Love and Logic philosophy will be offered soon.

Enrollment at Lino Lakes is up from 408 students last year to 437 this year.

On the same day as the school board meeting, Lino Lakes celebrated its second year as a STEM school by treating its students to an educational program presented by Rico Montenegro of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (see story on page 7).

Last spring, instead of a formal sixth grade graduation, students completed a unit on using solar ovens to heat food.  They set up the ovens outdoors and tested different materials for insulation, measuring and recording the temperature every half hour, and then designed their own solar oven.

Science curriculum

High school biology teacher Brad Ward, district chair for science, presented the science curriculum review.

Since the last five-year review in 2007, he said, standards grade banding for grades kindergarten through 8 has changed.

Science standards are still delivered in bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8), but the ability to place standards anywhere within the band is no longer allowed.  Standards are now year-specific within the band and must be delivered at a specific year.

For grades 9 through 12, physics or chemistry credit is now required to graduate.  And in all grades, engineering principles have been integrated into every science class. The spring of 2012 saw a new MCA-III science exam.

Facilities and equipment also changed.  New elementary science units have been made by elementary teachers, with assistance by subject level experts from the secondary science teachers.

The high school chemistry rooms are state-of-the-art, Ward said, but the labs have too few stations for today’s class sizes. When the school was built in the 1970s, he said, classes typically had 20 to 24 students; now they have more than 30.

Elementary teachers are now expected to focus on science for at least two 30-minute sessions per week. Topics include living/nonliving, life cycles (butterflies), balance & motion, diversity of life, matter/rocks, forces & motion, weather, animal habits, sound and light. Ward showed a video of Scandia 6th graders making Slinky waves with high frequency or high amplitude.

For grade 7, in the past only one semester of science was required.  Now the district is in its second year of full-year 7th grade life science.

High school students are expected to take physics or chemistry as a sophomore and life science as a junior.

The high school offers chemistry A, AP chemistry, physics A/B and AP physics. Now that AP Chemistry is open to sophomores, he said, more than 100 students are enrolled.

Biology classes include field & forensic biology, biology A/B, and AP biology.

Earth science is a required class and meteorology an elective.

Other news

Superintendent Madsen has completed her cancer treatments.  She thanked the board for their unwavering support during her nine months of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

The superintendent announced that the strategic plan facilities task force will meet at 6 p.m. on Oct. 15 at the district office. Anyone is invited to participate in the meeting and in the facilities tours, which will take place on three Saturdays, to identify what needs should be addressed.

The board noted the Jan. 31 retirement of Diane Borle, administrative assistant to the superintendent, after 25 years with the district.

Gifts to the district included $8,356 to three elementary schools from the Target Take Charge of Education program, $714 from Dean Foods for Scandia Elementary activities, $485 from 12 donors to the Century Junior High field trip fund, $450 from the Columbus PTO for sixth grade workbooks, and $100 from Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet for Columbus Elementary books.

The board approved the early childhood programs coordinator terms and conditions of employment, changes to the interpreters employment agreement, and changes to the policy on purchasing supplies, equipment and service to comply with state law.

Policies on mandated reporting of maltreatment of vulnerable adults, child neglect and physical or sexual abuse were approved. The only change made was in a reporting form used.

A proposal to adjust curriculum review structure had its first reading.  This is the 13th year since the district began using a five-year curriculum review cycle.  Changes were recommended because of the number of substitute teachers needed when large curriculum review teams meet. Using the Atlas web-based tool for curriculum mapping was also discussed.

Also getting first readings were the family and medical leave policy annual review and the community use of school facilities policy. A change in the facilities use policy would include as a non-profit any group registered in Minnesota, not just those identified by U.S. IRS code.

The next school board meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 11, moved up from its regular date because of MEA weekend.