Year in Review: Hopkins Schools
A look at the biggest school stories of 2011.
“Change” was the byword for Hopkins Public Schools in 2011: change in leadership, change in funding and even change in student demographics. School district leaders grappled with new challenges and took advantage of new opportunities.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest changes the school district saw this year:
- Principal’s resignation leads to leadership shuffle:Patty Johnson, was all set to become principal of North Junior High when Hopkins High School Principal Willie Jett announced about a week after school ended that he’d accepted an assistant superintendent position at Saint Paul Public Schools. The district bumped Johnson up to the high school and chose Farmington High School Assistant Principal Becky Melville as the new North Junior High principal—a transition made easier because Johnson was an assistant principal in the High School and Melville spent most of her teaching career at North Junior High. By the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, both schools were humming along smoothly.
- New blood comes to the school board: Hopkins School Board Chairwoman Yvonne Selcer had seen tough times from the very beginning of her tenure on the board—a period that included the grueling process of getting the district out of statutory operating debt. Director Ellen Dustman came up through the district’s Legislative Action Coalition and, while on the School Board, served on the district’s Strategic Planning Committee and Technology and Information Educational Services. The two veterans chose not to run for reelection this year. They’ll be replaced by incoming board members Steven Adams and Kristine Newcomer—both candidates noted for financial experience, such as their work on school district referenda or the district’s budget committee.
- Enrollment continues downward slide: The message from school district leaders was that enrollment declines were leveling off. That was accurate. But perhaps it would be more to the point to simply say that enrollment continued to decline. Hopkins Public Schools had 103 fewer students this year than it did last year and 210 fewer than it did in 2008-09. Enrollment is key for districts because so-called “per-pupil payments” based on the number of students determine a large part of their budgets. The yearly drops should shrink to 16 by 2016, but those are still drops. The situation would be even worse if Hopkins didn’t have so many students open enrolling into the district. Demographics are part of the problem. Of the seven cities that make up Hopkins Public School, just three saw growth in the number of children 4 years old and younger between 2000 and 2010. Open enrollment also isn’t working in Hopkins’ favor to the extent it once did. In 2005, there were 2.05 students coming in for every student going out. For 2011, the district expects that ratio to be 1.42.
- Test performance dips: Each time statewide test results arrived in 2011, Hopkins seemed to receive some bit of bad news. The district learned in August that nearly half of Hopkins students tested in science last spring failed to meet state standards. Those scores do not impact the adequate yearly progress requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, but the reading and math tests that arrived in September do. This year’s reading results were a resounding success. Except for third grade, every level tested better than the state average—sometimes as much as 7 percentage points better. However, third, fourth and seventh grade math all fell behind the state average. Hopkins waited for the U.S. Department of Education to rule on Minnesota’s No Child Left Behind waiver request before it found out what that meant for No Child Left Behind’s “adequate yearly progress” determination. The final conclusion was that seven Hopkins schools missed their targets. It wasn’t all bad news, though. Hopkins exceeded the national average in every category of the “Measures of Academic Progress” test, and XinXing students scored the highest in the state on a Chinese language proficiency test.
- Junior high students experience new schedule: Hopkins junior high students got a new schedule for the 2011-12 school year that brought with it many new courses. For years, students had a school year divided in half, much like semesters at the college level. Under the new system, the school year is divided into quarters instead. New courses under the revised schedule include “Science in the Media: A Mix of Hollywood, Podcasts, Journals, Newspapers, and the Web,” “Anatomy & Physiology of the Human Body” and “Hot Topics in Science.” Students are also now required to complete two financial literacy courses prior to graduation.
- State delays more school payments: So-called “funding shifts” have been a thorn in school districts’ side ever since state officials started using them to balance the state’s books. Minnesota historically paid schools 90 percent of their state money in one fiscal year and the remaining 10 percent in the next. Minnesota lawmakers and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty changed this to a 70-30 split to balance the state’s budget—effectively borrowing from schools. Legislators this year dropped that to a 60-40 split. These shifts have forced some schools to use short-term borrowing. Although Hopkins hasn’t yet had to do that, it expects to do so in 2012.
Be sure to check out the entire series, to be published on the following dates: