Newport Elementary saved; South Washington County School Board to take up new facilities plan

Overcrowding in South Washington County Schools

Overcrowding in South Washington County Schools

A Newport elementary school will remain open after all, following controversy after the South Washington County School Board approved to close it.

Last year in April, the school board approved a facilities plan of $463 million to put before voters; it’s the largest in state history. Newport Elementary would have had to close by 2025 under this plan, but after it was rejected by voters, the board changed its course.  

It’s a huge relief for Nicole Kogler and many of the parents whose children attend Newport Elementary.  

“We’re a tiny town but put together, I’m impressed with what we did,” said Kogler. “We were devastated when we heard they might close.” 

Parents, teachers, and city officials rallied together for months last year, bringing awareness to the proposed closure.  

“We had a bunch of rallies and picnics and ice cream socials to get people aware of what was happening. And then we rallied outside the school board. We created a parade and honked through the towns… Yeah, we weren’t going down without a fight,” said Kogler.  

“It’s the most diverse school in the district and the largest share of lower-income students. Yet, consistently, they’re getting some very strong test scores,” said Marvin Taylor, Newport City Council Member.  

After voters struck down the multimillion-dollar referendum, which included turning Newport Elementary into an early learning center, board members now must take up a different plan this Thursday that would go before voters again.  

“After August, we went back and did a lot of community outreach. We did a community survey, we did some demographic reports, we held multiple community meetings, multiple staff meetings, and really, we just listened, we listened to the feedback, we listened to the input,” said Shawn Hogendorf, the Communications Director for South Washington County School District.  

The closure was meant to help with overcrowding in the district. During the April 21, 2022, school board meeting, photos showed East Ridge High School students standing shoulder to shoulder during passing time. At Woodbury High School, some students had to sit on the floor during lunch, and teaching and learning staff worked in a semi-converted warehouse space.  

The district projects enrollment to increase by 3.6 to 7.2 percent in ten years due to the booming population.  

“It’s a growing community, you know, and we’ve got a lot of homes coming in here and a lot of students,” said Hogendorf.  

The cost for the new facilities plan will be significantly lower than the initial one, Hogendorf said. The first question would focus on a $160 million set of issues, including secure entrances and renovations at overcrowded middle and high schools. A second question, in part, would ask voters for an additional $40 million for elementary school renovations and additions.   

“I’m just happy that our school is not closing, and the plan is not such a big ask,” said Kogler.  

If the school board approves the ballot questions on Thursday, it will go before voters this fall.