Despite RNC, it's back to school for mostby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
Today was the first day of school for many students across Minnesota. And even with the Republican National Convention in town, it was also back to school for the St. Paul School District.
But not every school in the capital city was open today.
St. Paul, Minn. — College presidents usually get pretty good parking spots, but Harry Chalmiers is out of luck this week.
"The problems are minimal; the possibilities are vast," Chalmiers said.
The head of the McNally-Smith College of Music in downtown St. Paul has surrendered the school's parking lot to crews who have been prepping the college's History Theatre for four nights of "The Daily Show."
The first show is tonight and Chalmiers is looking forward to McNally-Smith's national exposure.
Still, the lack of a theatre or parking lot means McNally-Smith's semester won't start until next week.
But the students won't be entirely off. They'll be among the street musicians performing throughout downtown this week to spice up the sidewalk scene. And Chalmiers also been practicing in case he wants to make a cameo.
"We can bring music and energy and statement through art. John Stewart makes an impact through comedy. We're training people to make impact through music," Chalmiers said.
McNally-Smith isn't the only downtown music-themed school calling off classes this week. The St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts is a charter high school located in the Landmark Center.
Executive Director Terry Tofte said the conservatory uses four dance studios in the nearby Wilkins Auditorium for classes, but those studios are being used this week for the convention and will be tied up for two more weeks during tear-down. He's been scrambling to find dance studios for his students.
"This has been inconvenient but it's small compared to the history," Tofte said.
But Tofte said there is another reason to delay the start of school.
"There's also a concern that, because we're working with performing artists - who tend to be politically active and may lean towards the liberal end of the political spectrum - there was some concern there might be extra-curricular activity related to their work here at school and that they might not attend classes," said Tofte.
But despite the inconveniences the convention is causing, these two schools are the exception to the rule.
Just about every other school or college in St. Paul is open. That includes the St. Paul Public School District, which has one school - Wellstone Elementary - a few blocks from the Xcel Energy Center, site of the RNC.
Parents of St. Paul city students got a recorded back-to-school phone call yesterday from superintendent Maria Carstarphen. This morning, she rode the bus with students to Wellstone to see how it navigated security around the Xcel Center - and she said it went well - in her words, it was "awesome".
"We just had a lot of backup plans in case anything happened, and so far so good. As a matter of fact, we're running more on time this year than we ever have," Carstarphen said.
Carstarphen said the district was prepared for the convention to wreak havoc on getting students to and from schools, so bus drivers went through extra training this year. But she's pleased that having a national convention in the middle of the city did not disrupt the work of the first day of school.
- All Things Considered, 09/02/2008, 4:55 p.m.