District 281 magnet school set to open

By Rachel M. Anderson – Contributing Writer

There’s less than a month to go until the 2012-2013 school year begins, and some big changes are in store for hundreds of families who send their kids to Robbinsdale Area Schools.

Parents will be sending their children to a new elementary magnet school.

Teachers, administrators and construction workers are currently hard at work putting the finishing touches on classrooms and common spaces at the School of Engineering and Arts at Olson Elementary. Within the next two weeks, all of the classroom furniture, media center shelving, teacher supplies, books and curriculum will be coming in.

Classes begin after Labor Day, on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

“There has been a lot going on this summer,” said Principal Kim Hiel, who was tapped to lead the new school in large part because of her background. “Brand new cabinetry and shelving has been built and put in. We had to put all the technology parts in – Smart Boards and projectors and wireless technology. They are installing an elevator, and in the media center, which will rival many, we took a wall down so we can have a projected screen area.”

During her tenure at Robbinsdale’s Meadow Lake Elementary, Hiel’s work included new initiatives, including a focus on school wide STEM and an in-house preschool program, along with rising test scores.

Prior to Meadow Lake, she was principal for four years at Lakeview Elementary School, where she was instrumental in the creation of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme focus at that school.

The school’s program director will be Cara Rieckenberg, who transferred from the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District to one more focused on integration and implementation of Environmental Education into all curricular areas.

At the School of Engineering and Arts at Olson Elementary, the focus will be on engineering and the media arts.  The integration of engineering and media arts throughout the school day will be one way this school is different than others in the district.

“There will be a lot of project-based problem-solving for the kids to do,” explained Hiel. “We won’t be necessarily teaching a specific engineering unit. Engineering will be involved in all we do. We’ll also have a lot of professional mentors coming in to work with the kids.”

Teachers spent time this summer in professional development that will provide a solid foundation for the opening of the school. Students attending the school come from throughout the region served by Robbinsdale Area Schools and were selected based on a lottery system.

There will be approximately 480 students in kindergarten through 5th grade during the 2012-2013 school year.

What makes the new K-5 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) magnet school program especially notable to the community is its location at 1751 Kelly Dr. in Golden Valley. It will be housed in the old Sigurd Olson Elementary School building, which was closed 30 years ago.

After ceasing to be an elementary school, the building was the on-again, off-again home to various school and community programs. Recently, it was used as a temporary school when other active Robbinsdale schools were under renovation. In December 2011, the School Board decided to once again turn the campus into an elementary school.

Families with children entering kindergarteners will get their first peek inside during a special open house to be held 6-7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 28. An all-school open house will be held 5:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 30. At both open houses, families will get to tour the campus, find their classrooms, meet their teachers, get information packets, and purchase their lunch tickets.

“I’m super excited,” Hiel said. “We have an incredible staff with a lot of energy. It is a pleasure to open a new building where so many people want to be involved. There is a lot of energy. A lot of energy over here.”