Pratt School kicks off year with familiar faces and new challenges

Travis and Bridget Emdin with their sons Frederick (right) and George, who is a first-grader at Pratt.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Low enrollment may lead to teacher reassignment

Much has changed for the students and staff at Pratt Community School since the school board’s decision last spring to merge the K–5 program from Tuttle School into the Pratt program in Prospect Park.

Although student enrollment has nearly doubled — from 85 to approximately 170 students at last count — it is a third smaller than the 240 expected students, and administrators and parents alike have been surprised to learn that the difference could force the school to cut a teacher as soon as Oct. 1.

Despite this news, the merger has gone smoothly, said Principal Ellen Murphy. “The Pratt kids have really welcomed the Tuttle kids,” she said. The combined K–5 programs now occupy nine classrooms (two full-day kindergartens, two first grades, two second grades, and one each of third, fourth and fifth grades), more than double the four classrooms utilized last year.

At the school’s open house on Sept. 20, several students and parents echoed Murphy’s positive feelings about the new school year. Parent Travis Emdin, whose son George is a first-grader at Pratt, said he liked “the family-oriented feeling” at Pratt. “Everyone knows each other, the teachers, the parents and the students,” he said.
Pratt and Tuttle were sister schools, sharing Murphy as principal, and the two teaching staffs combined at Pratt, except for a few retirements. Anisa Hersi said this was one of the main reasons she chose Pratt for her son, former Tuttle student Tayasir Dahir, who said he loves being at Pratt. “I wanted him to be able to see the same teachers,” said Hersi.

Community support has also been strong, said parent liaison Gregory Isola. “The parents are visible here and part of the educational process,” he said, noting other supportive organizations like the Prospect Park/East River Road Improvement Association (PPERRIA), Luxton Park, East Side Neighborhood Services, the university and UCare.

Merger snafus may have led to fewer student transfers
Despite doubling in size, Pratt is still one of the smallest K–5 schools in Minneapolis. Its classroom sizes — in the teens and low 20s — are significantly lower than those at nearby schools, such as Marcy Open School and Seward Montessori, where class sizes are in the high 20s and low 30s.

Murphy said that when the Minneapolis School Board merged the Pratt and Tuttle programs, it was assumed that all of the approximately 140 Tuttle elementary students would move to Pratt, giving the school nearly 240 kids. Only about half the Tuttle students actually moved to Pratt, with others choosing schools such as Marcy, Seward, Sheridan and Pillsbury.

The increased enrollment has brought money for more resources, such as a nurse, a full-time secretary, Somali aides and two technology labs.

On the other hand, the lower-than-expected-enrollment could mean the reassignment of a Pratt teacher, a fact that Murphy and Pratt staff and parents learned on Sept. 20, via a letter from the district’s human resources department. At a public meeting that evening, Pratt parents and community members expressed their frustration over the news to Associate Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, arguing that 240 had never been a realistic number to plan for and that the actions of the district had contributed to the small enrollment.

Isola outlined a few circumstances that may have prevented families from choosing Pratt. Pratt parents discovered at the end of the summer that the school had not been included on the list of options on the district’s school-choice web page, which “was brought to the attention of the student placement people, and they took care of it,” said Isola.

In addition, some families in the former Tuttle area were mistakenly told they could not receive busing to Pratt, he said. District transportation officials also eliminated some Pratt bus stops near the Glendale housing development, which is within the school’s walking zone. Isola said many of the new immigrants who live at Glendale don’t feel comfortable letting their children walk to school, however. “We’ve heard anecdotally that we’ve lost students there to other schools farther away that provide busing,” he said. “We’re hoping to restore some of those stops so we can get those students back.”

Another concern expressed by Pratt parents at the Sept. 20 meeting was the district’s decision — based on combined 2006–2007 test scores from the 85 Pratt and expected 140 Tuttle students — to place Pratt on the list of schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the No Child Left Behind program. Pratt exceeded testing goals for that year.

“Pratt by itself wouldn’t be on the … list,” said parent Scott Johnson, “but the district calculated that there would be more former Tuttle students than Pratt students at Pratt, so they went with the simple majority designation of the students.”

Johnson said Pratt would urge the district to reconsider the designation. “If you get that label, it makes it harder to recruit,” he said. “It’s an issue we want to raise with the district to make sure we’re not unfairly burdening the merged school.”

Teacher reassignments to be completed by Oct. 1

Cassellius said the decision to reduce the Pratt staff was not a done deal and that efforts were underway to try to increase the Pratt enrollment. “We’re trying to beef things up at the [student placement] center to get them properly enrolled,” she said. “The Pratt principal and the Marcy principal [Donna Andrews] are talking right now to try to figure out if there are students at Marcy who would rather go to Pratt.”

Her goal, she said, was to make sure Pratt was “appropriately staffed . . . stabilizing the school and considering what’s in the best interests of children and also looking at the district as a whole and making sure we’re using our resources equitably for students across the district.”

The decision about reassigning a Pratt teacher had not been made at press time, but Cassellius said staff reassignments would be completed by Oct. 1. For updated information, please visit the Bridge website at www.readthe bridge.info.

The ‘Pratt Model’

In the Prospect Park neighborhood, stakeholders are also concerned about the extent to which Pratt School can continue to be part of the “Pratt Model,” which Susan Larson-Fleming, chair of the PPERRIA education Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) committee, described as a “multi-generational community education center” that has historically included adult education as well as elementary. With the number of K–5 classrooms growing from four to nine, five classrooms of adult basic education were moved to other locations. Some community education classes (see article, page 4) and the offices of Southeast Seniors remain in the building.

Larson-Fleming hopes the adult basic education classes can return to Pratt, but it won’t be possible until the third floor of the building is renovated, a longstanding dream for the neighborhood. Residents plan to raise money for the renovation from grants, fundraising and possibly the school district, but there is no schedule for when the work might be done.

For now, what Pratt supporters most want is time for the new Pratt School to grow and establish itself. “We see this as a building year,” said Isola. “Let us make a run for it and we’ll see what happens.”

last revised: September 27, 2007