Columbia Heights Schools conducts resident outreach initiative

Survey data submitted by families will be analyzed

Columbia Heights Public Schools is reaching out to resident families who have chosen not to enroll their children in the district.

This map shows the boundaries of Columbia Heights School District 13, which serves Columbia Heights, Fridley and Hilltop. (Courtesy of Columbia Heights Public Schools)
This map shows the boundaries of Columbia Heights School District 13, which serves Columbia Heights, Fridley and Hilltop. (Courtesy of Columbia Heights Public Schools)

Director of Student Services Nicole Halabi said that through open enrollment, resident students are able to attend other school districts, charter schools or private schools. She said the district wants to find out from families why they have chosen not to enroll their children in School District 13.

Prior to Supt. Kathy Kelly being selected superintendent in June 2007, Kelly talked with Halabi when she was assistant superintendent about whether the district had tried to reach out to parents about their decision to enroll elsewhere, and it was determined that no one had before.

Halabi said that during Kelly’s first year as superintendent, she asked her to contact parents and ask them why they were not enrolling their children in Columbia Heights Public Schools.

“People were really open and friendly, and they were very willing to talk to me,” Halabi said. “A lot of them had moved into the district and had never even really thought of attending the school district.”

For example, she said if a family had moved to Columbia Heights from Fridley, they wanted to continue attending the Fridley School District, or a family that moved to Columbia Heights because they couldn’t find a house in St. Anthony hoped to enroll in the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District.

“Predominantly, they had never come into the schools or thought of attending our schools,” Halabi said.

Families also told Halabi that their kids had attended District 13’s elementary schools, which they had loved, but they were nervous about enrolling in the middle school. Halabi said one of Kelly’s initiatives when she became superintendent was to clean up and address some of the behavioral concerns at the middle school, such as allowing students to be outside during passing time between classes.

Students are no longer allowed to venture outside during passing time, and the school’s transformation to Columbia Academy has made it more attractive and appealing to families, Halabi said. She added that if students leave the district to attend a different middle school, they are often lost permanently because they typically don’t return to Columbia Heights for high school.

Families received an automated call informing them of the survey, which was mailed out beginning Feb. 11. Each survey is accompanied with a letter that explains the resident outreach initiative.

The survey consists of nine questions, some of which ask families why they chose to enroll their child in another school setting, which school their child is attending, what the three most important qualities of a school are, their impressions of Columbia Heights Public Schools and a recommendation they would suggest to the school district.

Halabi said she hopes to receive survey responses within two weeks, and a reminder phone call will go out to parents.

“It’s really valuable information for us,” she said. “There’s not a way for us to get the information unless people respond.”

The survey data will be formatted and analyzed, and a presentation will be made to the School Board. Next steps could involve focus groups and a task force.

Halabi emphasized that the school district will not go to other districts and recruit resident students.

“We just really want to bring Heights kids back home, and, at the very least, have them come in and visit the school district and attend an activity or something because we are such a community-based school district,” she said.

Columbia Heights Public Schools is working with Springsted Inc., a public sector advisor, on this outreach initiative.


Contact Kassie Petermann at [email protected]