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There was no news conference to announce that Newport Elementary School would remain open. South Washington County Schools made no formal announcement about the fate of the school.

But this spring, the school board unanimously approved a document in its facilities planning process that included this statement: "We will not bring forth a plan that closes any elementary school."

"It's a huge relief," said Hoyam Elkhedir, who has two children at Newport Elementary. "We feel like our voice was heard, finally. And to be honest, there is no reason to close it."

The shift in the district's proposal marks a hard-won victory for the community. Newport Elementary is the district's most diverse elementary school, where more than half the students are children of color. About 62% qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and 18% are English language learners.

While many districts struggle with declining enrollment and budget cuts, the South Washington County district faces the opposite problem: new housing developments and population growth.

Last year, the school board approved a $462 million facilities plan — which would have been the largest in state history — to help address overcrowding, primarily at high schools and middle schools. Newport Elementary was slated to close and become an early learning center.

But voters rejected that plan in August, forcing district officials to start the planning process again. This time, everyone says, they listened to what voters would support.

"There was a lot of opposition in the community to closing a school," said Shawn Hogendorf, communications and community relations director for the South Washington County district. "We heard what the community said, and we changed course."

The new facilities plan — which like the first one would require a property tax increase — divides the district's objectives into two ballot questions.

One features a $160 million set of top priorities, including secure entrances and renovations at overcrowded middle schools and high schools. The second would provide $40 million for elementary school renovations along with more space for the district's alternative high school, which currently has room for just 11th- and 12th-grade students.

The school board will vote on the new facilities plan Thursday. If it's approved, the two ballot questions will go to voters in November.

School board members seemed mostly supportive of the new plan at a June 1 meeting. They stressed that it reflected community priorities from surveys and feedback sessions.

"I'm glad that we went out into the community and listened to them," said Chair Sharon Van Leer. "This is a plan that they brought to us. We need to listen to them and move forward."

Newport Elementary is the smallest grade school in the district. Many parents say its size is an asset, and praise teachers for their attention to individual students.

"The students and the teachers have really strong relationships because of the small environment," Elkhedir said.

And it's the only school in Newport, a river city of 4,300 downstream from St. Paul. Many residents consider Newport Elementary the bedrock of their community.

Charissa Vasquez, a Newport Elementary parent, said her first-grade son fell behind when he missed several weeks of school in the winter due to illness. But by the end of the year, he had caught up.

"The school is outstanding because he is now where he's supposed to be," she said.

Newport parents and students packed a school board meeting in April 2022 when the board approved the facilities plan that would have closed Newport Elementary. Things got tense, and school board members walked out when the crowd got unruly. Police showed up to enforce fire code violations.

Parents and teachers vowed to defeat the plan at the ballot box. And they did: That August, 66% of voters rejected it.

"They know they can't pass a referendum if they try to close our school," said Newport City Council Member Marvin Taylor, who helped lead the opposition to the closure. "They learned that the hard way."

Since then, school officials have been collecting feedback throughout the district. From listening sessions, surveys and community feedback sessions, district officials drew up a set of priorities they hoped voters would approve.

"We're listening," said Hogendorf, the district spokesperson. "I think we're working really hard to try to gather feedback and listen to what the community wants."

District officials have not yet acknowledged previous mistakes, Taylor said. But he praised the improved community engagement since the August referendum failed.

"I feel like they got it right now," he said. "Now they have to sell it to the people."

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This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newspaper dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up to receive Sahan's free newsletter in your inbox.