n Proposal adresses declining enrollment, problem with deficit and student needs
by Jim Boyle
School officials for Ivan Sand Community High School, which has been plagued by declining enrollments and related budget deficits, hope online learning can help restore financial stability.
Administrators there believe the hybrid model they are exploring will also better meet the changing needs of students, who are more technologically savvy. This hybrid model will provide students more flexibility and project-based learning that alternative learning centers are often known for.
Big changes are a necessity, based on the school’s budgetary issues and the fact the district will have at least a $2.7 million overall deficit to wrestle with this spring with the district’s overall general fund.
The students will still need to come to class for a good share of their education, but an online program called Apex will give them some options for a portion.
Students will still have to be logged in during the school day and showing progress, but they might be working from home, out of a coffee shop or at a local library.
Ivan Sand Principal Tom Hoffman said students at the school are not as motivated as they would like them to be, and enrollment has dropped from 165 to about 100 students. About 60 percent are within reach of their diploma, but are getting up there in age at 18, 19 and 20.
“They are torn between work, being seniors, wanting to get on with life and this thing called a diploma,” Hoffman said.
Alternative Learning Center programs in Mounds View and Sauk Rapids have found success growing their program with hybrid models.
Sauk Rapids has tripled its size since making the change to its school within a school program. Ivan Sand officials will soon tour Mounds View, where they have doubled their numbers in a year. More students bring more dollars.
School Board Member Sue Farber expressed concern the change could be a step backwards, saying that the current seat-based program allowed the school to shed a bad reputation it had in the community years ago. She and other board members expressed pride in Ivan Sand for its accomplishments.
School Board Member Jolene Jorgensen pressed how teachers will develop relationships that have keyed many students’ successes at Ivan Sand.
“I don’t want to see a tremendous school with extreme value for the kids that do go there turn into a free-for-all that it used to be,” Farber said.
Hoffman said he didn’t share Farber’s concerns because the software comes with a monitoring system to track students’ time on task and even keystrokes.
“We’ll know when they’re engaged with the computer,” he said.
Farber told Hoffman his explanations were reassuring and that she understands the financial constraints.
Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent in charge of educational services, said it comes down to figuring out how to use existing dollars differently.
“It’s not that what we have done is wrong,” she said. “It isn’t wrong. The (students) have won awards over and over. Could they win more awards. Could we serve more kids. We think, yes.”
Hoffman also offered that the school, though a source for many success stories, does leave a lot to be desired. He would like to see the school enrollment grow and to grow successful programs like MAAP Stars programs, a DECA-like program for the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs.
“How do you explain the declining enrollment?” he asked. “If the school were truly successful, wouldn’t we see it growing?”
Hoffman said the staff at Ivan Sand is incredible, but he would like to see them serve 165 students rather than 100 at a time. He said his staff is asking for the change.
“They tell me all the time about how they are moving away from creative initiatives and individualized education alternative high schools are known for.
“Our school has become a mini Elk River High School or Zimmerman High School,” he said. “We’re sort of replicating the regular K-12 model they didn’t fit in.”
Hoffman said his teachers believe there are better ways to reach today’s learners and create relationships based on who they are and what their creativity is using a different approach.
Jorgensen said she remains curious about how staff will build the relationships with the students who attend under the hybrid.
“They’re not going to build those relationships from a computer,” she said.