Parents, staff join in questions about Impact Academy proposal

More informational meetings planned

Lakeville School District Learning Specialist Julene Oxton introduces members of the Impact Academy committee during a March 11 informational meeting about the proposal being considered as an option for K-3 students at Orchard Lake Elementary this fall. (Photo by Laura Adelmann)

A plan to expand K-3 learning options at Lakeville’s Orchard Lake Elementary School next year raised many questions from parents and staff during a March 11 informational meeting.

Proposed by seven OLE staff, led by Lakeville Learning Specialist Julene Oxton, “Impact Academy” may be offered next fall for up to 108 OLE K-3 students and potentially expand to grades 4-5 in 2014-15.

Impact Academy students would be grouped by learning level in reading, writing and math and advance at their own pace.

Half-walls would separate areas in the school’s media center, proposed to be transformed into Impact Academy’s learning space.

Shelves of books and resources would be moved into two classrooms, and a media center brick wall is proposed to be torn out to add space to accommodate Impact Academy students.

Oxton said staffing Impact Academy is cost-neutral, with no additional hiring or new books needed; labor and furniture to remodel the space would be donated.

She added there have been printing expenses for color brochures and informational materials about Impact Academy in multiple languages.

School Board members have emphasized the need for Impact Academy remaining cost-neutral as the district struggles to cut $3.5 million from the budget and is planning an operating levy this fall.

Board Chair Roz Peterson called the program’s sustainability “really, really important because we can’t start a program and then just dismantle it a couple years later because of lack of funding.”

Several longtime OLE teachers expressed concerns they may be “pushed out” to a different school if Impact Academy was implemented at OLE.

Oxton said if the option was offered next year, some anchor teacher positions would be posted district-wide and could lead to moving OLE teachers to other schools. Positions could also change based on declining enrollment and seniority, she said.

Concerns were also expressed about the lack of communication about Impact Academy provided to OLE parents and staff members not part of the Impact Academy committee.

Peterson said school staff did not want to “overstep their bounds” by disseminating information on something not yet approved by the School Board.

The topic has been discussed at public School Board work sessions.

Questions also arose regarding the future of the program and how it would affect teachers in the long term.

Lakeville Schools Superintendent Lisa Snyder has said she supports the education model district-wide, and School Board members have said the current classroom-model teaching methods cannot be financially sustained by the district.

There is no clear understanding of how Impact Academy might be implemented or funded in “phase two” of the program in 2014-15. The program could be expanded to other schools, remain at OLE as a “school within a school” or be eliminated if it does not attract students.

School Board members have discussed the possibility that the program could attract families to the district and help boost per-pupil funding.

Some staff members indicated the change is causing stress within the school.

“Change is hard,” Oxton said. “It’s not like it’s easy for the development team. It’s not easy for staff. What I want us to walk away with, and I hope that you have seen it, is a passion for kids. I’ve never had any intention to do anything except to help kids.”

Lakeville parent Chris Walker said he liked the idea of individualized learning, and called the meeting “very informative.”

“There’s a group of seven teachers that have put together a plan to give students an opportunity to learn differently and possibly learn better,” Walker said. “I’m completely for that. I think it’s great we have teachers thinking that way and who put this together.”

He said his daughter, who will be a first-grader next year, “will definitely be on the list” for Impact Academy if it is offered at OLE.

Parent Dean Ewald said he needed more information and input regarding Impact Academy.

“You get the feeling that a decision has already been made,” he said.

Gretal St. Onge, a former teacher and parent of two OLE students, said she supports the model because it helps teachers better meet the needs of students.

She said her daughter who struggles with some subjects would find it more encouraging to be with students at the same level.

“She could only benefit from it,” St. Onge said.

Additional meetings about Impact Academy are scheduled in the OLE Media Room on March 22 at 11 a.m., March 25 at 7 p.m. and April 11 at 7 p.m.

Another meeting will be held March 26 at 6 p.m. at the Southwind Village Community Room, 15001 Greenhaven Drive, Burnsville.

The School Board is expected to vote on Impact Academy at its March 26 meeting.

Originally, the board was to have made a decision at its March 12 meeting, but after numerous questions were raised, delayed the action and the district scheduled informational meetings.

In an interview, Peterson said the board needs more information about how Impact Academy will work and be sustained.

“The fact that they have come up with a cost-neutral plan is crucial, otherwise we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” she said.