“Enrichment” in policy 601 yields devastating consequences

Kyra Bergerud, administrative coordinator

Although enrichment and diversity can be beneficial to students in an educational setting, “improvements” must be interpreted through a holistic lens that takes into account constraints. The changes to Policy 601 presented in subsection K cannot be analyzed independently, but must be looked at in context of a strained school budget, the needs of struggling students, and the tradeoffs that are necessary in order to create more enrichment in Edina Public Schools. The halt that was placed on implementation on the changes to Policy 601 on Jan. 13 was one of the best decisions that the school board could have made because it will force us to look deeper at structural issues that need to be changed in the district. 

 The costs of designing and implementing a new curriculum are extensive to say the least. Just last year there was a frenzy over class selection due to budget cuts and layoffs in the district to fit within budget constraints. In these circumstances, how is it possible that now we have the resources to staff new enriched and honors classes, design a new curriculum, and ask students to make a definitive determination over what “new” classes they want to take without adequate knowledge of preparation?

These inequalities in education have created large divides amongst students. The World’s Best Workforce bill facilitated by Edina Schools’ administrators had five Goal Area and Status Standards from 2018-19: school readiness, to have students be well read by third grade, to close academic achievement gaps, have all students attain career and college preparedness, and that all students graduate high school. While four out of five of these goals were completed at Edina, the only one that lacked sufficient completion was closing academic achievement gaps of students. 

With the new proposed changes in enrichment starting in third grade, it is critical to assess the current situation of attainment at Edina in young students. “Last year on MCAs, Edina had 25% of third graders considered not proficient in reading. More staggering is that 63% of third graders that qualify for free and reduced lunch were not proficient,” Nicole Danielson, a leader of the Dyslexia Parent Alliance and a speaker at the Nov. 18 school board meeting, said. While proficiency for all students and enrichment for some seem unrelated, they are not. Important programs in Edina are struggling to provide adequate services for students due to lack of funding. Although Edina has worked to find innovation in reading and is pushing to close the achievement gaps, the funding that the amendments to Policy 601 are extensive and would trade off with important equity programs. These consequences could be dire. “Is there an opportunity for more rigor in our schools for our highest performing kids? Perhaps. But if that is at the expense of teaching our young students the fundamentals of reading it would be devastating,” Danielson said. 

Although increased development is important, pressure and advancement come at a cost. Attending Edina Public Schools carries with it prestige and incredible privilege, but also an immense amount of social and emotional weight that students feel everyday. The desire to not only achieve, but to excel, is driven into us from a young age causing mental health problems, anxiety, and depression from the crushing weight of failure. Increasing the levels of classes at such a young age begins this pressure and cements stigmatization of those who choose not to partake in honors classes. The truth is that we already have many options for advancement, and we are just not equipped to handle additional stresses on mental health work at the high school or more generally in the district. 

Again, it comes back to the funding question. “At last count there were 2,696 students at Edina High School; there are three social workers. That averages out to 898 students each. There are nine school counselors who each support 299 students. There is one school psychologist, two licensed school nurses, one co-located fraisure mental health professional, and a very part-time chemical dependency counselor,” Pamela Balabuszko-Reay, an audience speaker at the Nov. 18 school board meeting, said. This distribution of counselors to students isn’t sufficient. Although the counselors and health professions do great work, it’s impossible to manage the immense ratio of students to professionals at Edina. Increased funding and staffing in these departments could provide a much needed ease and reduce the burden while providing students more resources for help, but only if money and time is devoted to it.

The stall on the proposed changes to Policy 601 are significant and important because if enacted, the changes will have undue consequences in the district. We should be aiming to provide a more equitable and beneficial system for students, and the changes to Policy 601 will do more harm than good.