Denfeld News

May 20, 2014
Duluth News Tribune

Spanish 5 reinstated at Duluth Denfeld; equity concerns remain
By Jana Hollingsworth  May 20, 2014

The news that Duluth Denfeld High School will continue to offer a Spanish 5 course next year was met with applause at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, but the larger issue of equity remained a concern for many.

Superintendent Bill Gronseth began the meeting by announcing that the class would be offered next year at the school, in part because of additional federal low-income funding Denfeld receives that East High School does not. The money each year helps to lower class sizes along with paying for other supportive measures. He noted staffing decisions aren’t yet final.

While parents and students were pleased about the Spanish course, some said the enrollment difference between the two high schools and the boundary changes made during the Red Plan have resulted in fewer options for students at Denfeld. Not only does East enroll more students, said Denfeld parent Andrew Slade, but there is a perception it’s a better school with better options.

“If you are a professional family moving to Duluth — that we all want so many more of — and you hear about Duluth’s two high schools, where are you going to choose to live? You move east,” he said. “I hear it time and time again.”

Not maintaining an equal course catalog, he said, sends the wrong message to students and gives fewer opportunities to those who live outside the East boundary.

Denfeld junior and Central Hillside resident Lucy Billings said her life has been affected by the Red Plan since she was a child. She was bused an hour to Morgan Park Middle School when she lived five minutes from Woodland Middle School, she said, but she was OK with it because the opportunities were the same. Not so in high school, she said, noting two classes she picked for next year won’t be offered at Denfeld, but will be at East.

“My address should not determine the quality of my education,” she said, suggesting temporary options to save courses if the redrawing of boundaries is too complex. “I have faith that the appropriate decisions will be made to put this right.”

Both schools use the same course catalog, but each year some courses aren’t offered because of lack of interest, scheduling conflicts or a lack of money. Gronseth said next year, East is slated for more course reductions than Denfeld.

Numbers from October show that Denfeld enrolls 989 students while East enrolls 1,550. Denfeld senior Hans Slade suggested that Denfeld’s ratio of students signed up for German 5, a class slated for elimination, compared to the number of students enrolled at the school, for example, shows that there is more interest in that course compared to the same for East, which will offer the class next year.

“This isn’t an issue that will only come up this year,” he said. “This gap continues to widen.”

Denfeld parent and district teacher Linda Puglisi noted the course reductions being made at both high schools, and asked the board to keep the promises it made through the district’s new continuous improvement plan related to students receiving a high-quality education.

Member Harry Welty said the board should consider some of the mentioned solutions, such as using Skype, or transporting students between schools more often for classes on either campus.

“I think everyone here strongly agrees with students about the importance of equity,” he said.

For the first time in years, the district also is investing in middle school music education with the reinstatement of lessons, and because of the passage of the November operating levies, nearly $1.5 million will be invested in lowering class sizes by allowing the district to hire more teachers.

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