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Making the Grade

Presenting Minnesota Monthly’s guide to metro-area high schools—a comprehensive, statistical look at 77 public and 34 private schools. How does your kid’s school compare?

Making the Grade
Photo by Thomas Strand

(page 3 of 3)

The Four Questions Every Parent Should Ask—and Every High-School Principal Should Be Able to Answer

Q: What is the school’s overall vision?
Principals should be able to describe the school’s culture and how its values are communicated. “I loved it when parents asked me, ‘How do you make sure everyone shares that vision?’” says Laura Bloomberg, associate director of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for School Change and the former principal of Minneapolis’s Interdistrict Downtown School.

Q: What curriculum is used—and why?
A principal should know what’s happening instructionally in their schools, says Bloomberg, though for very specific information about assessments and other technical matters, he or she may need to find an expert.

Q: Where do your graduates end up?
No school can guarantee admission to Harvard, but a principal ought to be willing to talk about students’ overall trajectory. “High-school principals ought to be able to talk about where their kids are coming from,” says Bloomberg. “Are you preparing my kid for the next step?”

Q: How are kids’ physical and emotional safety effectively safeguarded?
Administrators should be able to do more than assure parents their schools are safe. They should be able to describe specific policies and give concrete examples. What ground does anti-bullying
curriculum cover?

The New Prep Schools

More than ever, students have real opportunities to cultivate their talents, be it for math or musical theater. Here, a look at eight standout programs preparing kids for life after high school.


Mounds View High School
At Mounds View, hundreds of students participate in the largest annual physics fair in the country. In another event, the Science Olympiad, Mounds View’s team has won four of the last six state championships. At this year’s national Olympiad, the team placed second in ecology and sixth in a competition to design and build a functional robot.


Mahtomedi High School
Thanks to Medtronic, 3M, and H.B. Fuller, the communities served by Mahtomedi Public Schools boast a tremendous concentration of engineers, a profession in short supply throughout much of the rest of the country. Thus was born the Mahtomedi Engineering Leadership Program, an effort aimed at recruiting underrepresented groups into engineering by exposing every student at the school to the field. Students study digital, biotechnical, aerospace engineering; many graduate with college credits.


Park High School
A thriving business- and professional-preparation program at Park is offered in conjunction with Intermediate District 916. Along with students from 10 other northeast metro districts, Park students can learn graphic design, cosmetology, law enforcement, and various medical fields. Last year, students in the construction trades program built a house in Cottage Grove—and sold it.


Minnetonka High School
Given the number of Minnetonka students who’ve graced the stages of the Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theatre, and Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, it would be tempting to accuse the school of packing its drama program with ringers. Actually, it’s the other way around: The school’s reputation draws budding thespians from throughout the metro area. Last year, Minnetonka students brought home 12 awards from the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s SpotLight Musical Theatre Awards—more than any other school.


Eagan High School
One year ago, Eagan staged 21 performances of The Wizard of Oz—and every one sold out. The school puts on five elaborate stage productions a year, but what really sets its performing arts programs apart is Eagan’s philosophy of intertwining theater with debate and speech, emphasizing a mix of skills that will serve students well in any field.


South High
At Minneapolis’s South High, students can take six different foreign languages, including Latin, Chinese, and Ojibwe, the latter two taught by native speakers. Six levels of Spanish are offered, including Advanced Placement, and college credit can be earned for Chinese, German, and French. The school also organizes trips to France, Germany, China, and numerous Latin American countries where students can test their skills.


Blaine High School
At Blaine’s Center for Engineering, Mathematics, and Science, math whizzes have a chance to apply their skills in several high-tech arenas, including civil, environmental, and biological engineering, as well as computer science. All seniors complete a capstone project, and many students graduate with college credits.


Rosemount High School
Rosemount boasts five concert bands, three jazz bands, a percussion ensemble, and a marching band with a reputation so strong it attracts students not just from other Twin Cities districts, but from other states.




Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Aug 25, 2008 10:29 pm
 Posted by  lksandham

Dear Beth:

When I returned to work today after the summer break, I was thrilled to learn from a colleague that our music program had received special recognition in Minnesota Monthly magazine. What a delightful and unexpected surprise, I thought, and what a terrific way to start the new year! As soon as I got home this evening I picked up my issue to find the article. Imagine my tremendous disappointment when I, a choir and music theory teacher at Rosemount, saw that only our excellent band program received acknowledgment and not our entire music program, which includes no fewer than thirteen choirs (seven curricular and six co-curricular) and two college-prep music theory classes.

The Rosemount choirs don't do any competitive performing, so maybe that's why we don't attract much public attention. But my two choral colleagues and I are quietly proud of the fact that nearly 25% of Rosemount's total student body is enrolled in choir; that in recent years we have consistently placed six singers (the maximum allowed) in the highly-acclaimed Minnesota All State choirs; and that in each of the past three years, Rosemount choirs have been selected to perform at state music conventions and prestigious festivals. We are deeply honored to be part of a strong choral tradition at Rosemount High School that dates back several decades, and we're very grateful to our administrators, colleagues and community for the support they give us every year. That's truly thanks enough for the work we do. Still, I felt I would be remiss if I did not speak up on behalf of the choral students and ensembles we are so proud of. They, too, are the Rosemount Music Program.


Laura Sandham
Rosemount High School

Aug 26, 2008 06:20 am
 Posted by  Kimberly Budde, Arts and Activities Principal

At Rosemount High School, almost 3/4 of our students are involved in band, choir or dance. In a day and age where we wonder what are children are doing, I know that our kids are doing, creating and performing-all characteristics needed in an ever changing world.
Our band and choral programs are outstanding! We have committed, hard working directors that make the art of music a reality for so many of our students. We are able to meet the needs of many students in our school and consistently produce musicians that will rock your world.
As another component of our wonderful arts programming, we have a dance program within our school with four levels of dance as well as an in house dance company.
Rosemount High School is a school that values the arts. The teachers and students are what allow us "to make the grade" around Minnesota and beyond. We invite you to attend a concert or show of any type! You will be amazed at the quality and depth of our music and dance program.

In Music,
Kimberly Budde
Arts and Activities Principal
Rosemount High School

Sep 3, 2008 10:50 am
 Posted by  Lapp

Please post (or email) your metro school spreadsheet.

If it is readily available, please also include the school's zip code.

I will use your information to sort the top schools in my area.

Thanks! Great article. Nice job on the research.

Sep 9, 2008 07:31 am
 Posted by  Lynne

I work at 916 Intermediate School District Career and Tech Center, and feel this is a place of learning to suit so many students of varying learning styles, interests, and needs. I was pleased to see the arcile mention 916 Career and Technical Center, because to me the instructors here do some really unique and great things by teaching vocational related classes in so many interesting areas. From Animal Science to Auto Body, from Law Enforcement to Child Development, from Building Care to Emergency Medical Tech, amongst many other options, there are applied learning situations to suit many students here. If anyone in the area has never checked out our web site, please do so at http://www.nemetro.k12.mn.us/career/courses.html
Thank you for mentioning us Park High! We love showing the students a new way to learn, and be interested in their future.

Oct 24, 2008 04:32 pm
 Posted by  Judy H.

I have a daughter who attends St. Paul Open School, and a son who graduated from Open School a couple of years ago, and I was not suprised to see that, despite the poverty in the school and the severe lack of funding for the St. Paul Public Schools in general, the Open School students who take the ACT score very well. There are some extremely dedicated teachers there.

For example, just recently my daughter's AP English teacher took his students to watch Macbeth at a local theater. The class has just finished reading the play. Before attending the performance, the lead actors visited the classromm along with the director to talk to the class. It was an extremely enriching experience.

My son is now a student at the University of Minnesota's IT program, thanks to great Open School teaching.

When we think about poor and inner city schools, we tend to assume that they cannot be great schools. Well, my family is dedicated to this one and we are pleased to see that it is finally being noticed.


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