District is ‘very healthy’

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Austin Public Schools is faring better than many districts now, with increased enrollment, sound fiscal management and climbing graduation rates, interim superintendent Bruce Anderson reported during his State of the District address Monday.

Anderson, who is serving one year with the district before the new superintendent, David Krenz, begins July 1, told school board members the district is “on a march toward growth.”

“We can ease in with some of the shortfalls that are coming,” Anderson said of the forecasted state budget cuts. “There’s not going to be catastrophic cuts.”

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Enrollment for 2008-09 is 4,335, an increase of 36 students from the last school year and 260 more students than in 2003-04, its lowest point since before 2000-01.

“Unlike many districts in the state, we are still seeing a slight increase in enrollment,” Anderson said.

Student achievement is also up, with students performing at 70 percent proficiency in reading, up 7 percent from 2006-07; and 57 percent of students scoring proficiently in math, an increase of 5 percent.

“The number of students needing to meet proficiency increases each year,” he added, referring to the No Child Left Behind standards, in which the bar is raised each year for schools until 100 percent proficiency is met in 2014.

Currently, 42.4 percent of kindergartners are minorities, compared to 11.1 percent in grade 12.

Anderson pointed to the district’s efforts to integrate its growing diverse population, and explained that the number of students utilizing Limited English Proficiency services has stabilized.

“I think that’s a very significant observation for the district,” Anderson said. “Our diversity is increasing on a pretty patterned basis.”

Focusing on the positive aspects of APS, Anderson praised The Hormel Foundation’s contributions to Gifted and Talented programming; The Hormel Foundation/University of Minnesota Fellowship Program; and science lab renovations. He also mentioned other student opportunities, like intramural activities through the Chemical Health Awareness Initiative; the seventh grade trip to Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center; and advanced math and science courses for sixth- and seventh-graders.

“It’s a very healthy school district,” he said. “It’s an amazingly competent group of people from top to bottom.”