Sunnyvale, Red Brick, Benson, Lake Netta, Soderville. If you were an elementary student in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in the early 1950s you may have attended one of those schools. They were among the nearly dozen schools the district closed in the 1950s at the beginning of a new era. By a vote of citizens on April 8, 1952, the Anoka-Hennepin School District formed from the consolidation of 26 school districts in Anoka County and five school districts in Hennepin County. Each of the tiny districts supported a small schoolhouse, most with just one classroom.
When citizens voted overwhelmingly to consolidate, they realized that the rural schoolhouses, though often charming in appearance, could no longer meet the needs of a rapidly growing student population. It was clear they had to close. The district grew from fewer than 4,000 students its first year to more than 40,000 by the late 1990s to become the largest district in Minnesota.
Photo caption: Soderville School was still used by classes in 1952 when the Anoka-Hennepin School District consolidated. This photo is from the collections of the Anoka County Historical Society, Anoka, Minnesota.
A New Era
In 2008-09, the district was once again facing a new era, one of steady decline rather than growth, due primarily to changes in the birth rate. According to state demographer Tom Gillaspy, enrollment is expected to decline statewide for the next 20 to 30 years and Anoka-Hennepin is expected to experience a decline mirroring the state average.
The School Board began planning for changing conditions in fall 2008 with the appointment of the Discovery Team to investigate the issues most critical to the success of the district in the areas of demographics, educational programs, and money and buildings, and then report findings and alternatives for action to the board. After an in-depth study, the team suggested the district close schools due to declining enrollment and establish a citizen/staff committee to help with the process.
Following up, the School Board appointed the Facility Use Task Force in April 2009 to "study capacity of schools, enrollment projections, future program needs, staffing ratios, transportation costs and student support service costs to make recommendations toward the goal of using facilities and district resources efficiently." The task force completed its work in August 2008.
The 30-member team of citizens and staff included a rich mix of expertise, with city and county officials, parents and other citizens, teachers, principals and other staff representing the various communities of the district.
"The members are intensely interested in this task. They bring a real seriousness and concern. They want good solutions and a positive outcome," said Linda Rodgers, parent involvement coordinator who provided staff support to the team along with Chuck Holden, director of administrative services.
Co-chairs for the task force were Tom Miller, who also co-chaired the Discovery Team, and Dave McCauley, who had also served as both a city councilman and a county commissioner. Pat Stearns, a professional facilitator who volunteered as facilitator of the Discovery Team, also facilitated the task force.
"The School Board's goal is that buildings that are closed have a thriving purpose and not be boarded up to detract from a community," said Rodgers. "Having city and county expertise on the task force is very helpful in that aspect."
A number of staff resource committees provided information and other support to the task force. These include facilities/operations, demographics and transportation, community and government collaboration, special programs, and finance and staffing.
The School Board held public meetings to give citizens information and an opportunity for input before decisions were made. Now that the Facility Use Task Force has completed its work, you can follow the school closing process at: www.anoka.k12.mn.us/closingschools.