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Viewpoint: Boundaries built by the community

First off, let me thank everyone who has stepped forward to get involved in this process. It has truly been a community process. Everyone who asked to be involved has been given the opportunity to participate at some level. I am proud of the effort made by the district to have this activity be inclusive and transparent. All meetings have been advertised and have been public meetings where anyone could attend. Our board made a commitment very early on to have everything done in public, as it should be.

There are a few givens going into this very difficult process. We are drawing attendance boundary plans for the South Washington County School District 833. This school district serves all or parts of Newport, Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Woodbury and portions of Afton and Denmark Township. We have 22 very good schools, soon to be 23, in the district. Currently, most of our schools are located on the west side of the district; while our growth is on the east side of our district. We also have more students in the north than room available for the students in our schools in the north. This is all a result of growth and development.

Today, in the South Washington County Schools, students living in Newport go to schools in Woodbury and Cottage Grove. Students living in Cottage Grove go to schools in St. Paul Park and Woodbury. Students living in St. Paul Park go to school in Cottage Grove and students living in Woodbury go to school in both Newport and Cottage Grove. Students in our different communities have been attending school in other communities for almost as long as we have been a school district (1950s). We are all part of the South Washington County School District.

The attendance boundary process began almost one year ago with a community meeting held in the spring of 2007 at Woodbury Junior High School. It continued throughout the fall and winter of 2007-08 with elementary, middle and high school task force and oversight committee meetings. Out of this long and in-depth process have emerged three plans -- "Red," "White" and "Blue." Each plan has an elementary portion, middle school portion and a high school portion. These plans are just about completed and ready to be submitted to the School Board for review and public meetings before any final decisions will be made.

Here is how we will proceed once the plans are ready for School Board review: There will be a School Board workshop on April 10 where the board will listen to the three K-12 options, ask questions and get a thorough briefing into the process and determinations behind each plan. This meeting will be to educate the board prior to holding public meetings throughout the district. Many of the School Board members have been active listeners at the committee meetings. All board members have also been receiving the documents produced during the boundary process.

The School Board has already scheduled four community meetings, one at each of our junior high schools: Saturday, April 12 from 9 - 11 a.m. at Lake Junior High; Tuesday, April 15 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at Woodbury Junior High; Thursday, April 17 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at Oltman Junior High; Monday, April 21 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at Cottage Grove Junior High.

After the board holds these four community meetings, members will meet to review what they have heard in the community meetings and to decide if any adjustments should be made in the plans as submitted by the task forces. The School Board will make the final decision on attendance boundaries in late April or early May. This will allow for one full year prior to any boundary changes being made in the district.

All of the attendance boundary changes under discussion are scheduled for the fall of 2009 when East Ridge High School is scheduled to open. While 2010 graduates will remain at either Park or Woodbury high schools, in the fall of 2009 ninth grade students will be attending one of our three district high schools and students in grades six through eight will be attending one of our four middle schools. All elementary schools will then be kindergarten through fifth grade.

When all is done, not everyone in the district will be satisfied with the results. Some will have more enthusiasm than others for the changes. Everyone will have had an opportunity to participate. All growing school districts experience times when the growth dictates boundary changes. This is one of those times in the South Washington County School District.

Tom Nelson is superintendent of School District 833.