St. Paul schools plan emphasizes neighborhood schoolsby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — St. Paul school superintendent Valeria Silva unveiled a new three-year strategic plan for the district Tuesday morning that calls for some programs to be moved, retooled or even eliminated -- but also includes the reopening of some previously shuttered buildings.
The goal, officials say, is to improve academic results for all students, even in an era of scarce resources for schools. The district faces a budget shortfall of at least $20 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Even with that looming deficit, Silva says she can include possible building reopenings in her three-year plan because it's based on solid research and will lead to growth. More students would mean more state funding and create the need for more space.
One strategy is to increase capacity where there's a demand. Nokomis Montessori on the city's east side has a waiting list, for example, so Silva wants to split Nokomis into two campuses to create more space. Benjamin Mays elementary will launch a Mandarin Chinese immersion program next year, which Silva thinks will also attract new students.
More importantly, Silva says more students will want to attend St. Paul schools because of the retooling that will increase achievement. Curriculum, for example, will be made more consistent across the district, making it easier for students who move mid-year to catch up.
Some budgetary decisions that are currently made by principals at schools will be moved to the central administration office, which officials say will create efficiencies but also ensure consistent spending on instruction.
Right now, 73 percent of all children who live in St. Paul attend St. Paul district schools - the goal is to boost that to 75 percent.
Silva's plan promotes neighborhood community schools at the expense of citywide magnet programs. While magnets were originally created as a way to integrate students racially, Silva noted the city's population is already diverse regardless of neighborhood -- a statement affirmed by a district study of student demographics.
Placing students in community schools, she said, will achieve the same diversity goals.
"Community schools, and the schools closest to home, will not be racially segregated. We do not need to offer a citywide choice to ensure our schools are racially balanced," she said.
Silva's plan would place more students into schools closer to where they live. Sixteen current magnets would become community schools. They can keep the theme they've developed as a magnet -- such as the environment theme at Battle Creek Elementary -- but citywide busing to those schools will end.
The city would be split into six areas. Students will be able to get busing to any school within their home areas. But in most cases, they'd have to provide their own transportation if they choose to attend outside their areas.
"We're hoping families can see that you don't need to go and take a bus, and go into the other side of the city to get the best education, when you have it right here in your community," she said.
Silva says the transportation changes will save money, but she didn't have an estimate of how much.
Magnet school changes won't happen for at least a year, but some changes are coming sooner. Four Seasons elementary will close this summer. It's the only school slated to close entirely under Silva's plan.
Elizabeth Yang's two children attend Four Seasons, along with five of her nieces and nephews. For Yang, it will be the second time in two years she's had to move her kids. Their last school, Longfellow, also closed.
"When we were told to choose a different school, I was assuming that was all of the closing they were going to do, so I chose Four Seasons," said Yang. "Come to find out I have to change them to a different school again next year ... is very frustrating."
Four Seasons is a year-round school with an arts focus. Silva says it hasn't attracted enough students. The school's closing will also allow for the expansion of Bridge View school, which is connected to Four Seasons. Bridge View serves special education needs in the district.
Other changes next year include moving Creative Arts High School and Open School into a shared space downtown. Open School will drop younger grades and only serve grades 7-12.
Principal Todd Bartholomay says he's excited about pairing with Creative Arts, but he hates to lose the lower grades.
"We were the only K-12 program in the district for many years. It's often been productive, but it's really challenging to staff to program across all those grade levels," he said. "This plan, in some ways, responds to that. So there's something lost there, but there's also something gained."
Roosevelt Elementary on the city's west side is among the currently shuttered buildings that could reopen. Roosevelt would become home to a K-5 school in the fall of 2011, but any reopenings would be contingent on realizing the boosted enrollments.
Sites that previously housed Ames, Homecroft, Parkway, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Wellstone, and Wheelock schools could potentially reopen, if the plan is fully implemented.
Longfellow, Prosperity Heights, and Humboldt Junior High schools -- also previously closed -- will remain empty.
The school board still has to approve the plan. Board member John Brodrick already appears to be on board.
"It has concrete specificity, so it's actually trying to deal with the issues we've been talking about for years," he said.
Mary Cathryn Ricker, the president of the St. Paul teachers' union, says she's eager to hear teachers' thoughts on how the changes will affect students.
"That's the first filter our teachers will use when they hear this -- how will this impact my students, or the students I've been serving in this school?" she said.
Ricker says she's not sure whether her union will take a public stance for or against the plan before its final vote on March 15. One group, the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, has already weighed in with a statement of support Tuesday afternoon.
That March vote will take place after a series of community meetings are held to gather public input.
- *Jan. 27, 7:00-8:30 pm, Ames/Sheridan (Area A)
- *Jan. 31, 7:00-8:30 pm, Central High (Area F)
- *Feb. 5, 9:30-11:00 am, Wellstone (Area C)
- *Feb. 7, 7:00-8:30 pm, Como Senior High (Area E)
- *Feb. 10, 7:00-8:30 pm, Humboldt (Area D)
- *Feb. 14, 7:00-8:30 pm, Harding (Area B)
OTHER PLAN HIGHLIGHTS (listed by year of implementation):
- Four Seasons A+ Elementary, closed entirely. (nearby Bridge View school, which serves special education students, eventually will be expanded into the Four Seasons space)
- Open World Learning Community (formerly Open School), grades K-6 will be eliminated, grades 7-12 relocated.
- Open World Learning Community (formerly Open School). Grades 7-12 will be relocated to the former Wellstone Elementary site in downtown St. Paul. Grades K-6 will be eliminated.
- Creative Arts High School, to the former Wellstone Elementary site in downtown St. Paul.
- AGAPE High School, the district's program for teenage mothers, to the University Ave. site where Creative Arts High is currently located.
- Add a Mandarin Chinese immersion program at Benjamin Mays elementary, starting with kindergarten in 2011-2012, followed by additional grades in subsequent years. The existing International Baccalaureat program would continue.
- Mays Elementary and Museum Magnet are currently located in the same building but each school has its own principal. Just one principal will lead both schools in 2011-2012, with the programs being merged entirely in 2012. The same process will occur for American Indian & World Cultures magnet schools, which are also co-located.
- Add 1 hour of instruction to the school day at five elementary schools: Dayton's Bluff, John A Johnson, Jackson, Maxfield and Franklin/North End. The district will also seek a waiver to allow bus transportation to those five schools who live further than 1/2 mile from the school (currently the limit is one mile).
- Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary students will wear uniforms starting in 2011-2012. The school will add 7th and 8th grades in coming years.
- Ames/Sheridan and American Indian/World Cultures schools will both add 7th grade in 2011-2012, and 8th grade in 2012-2013.
- Sixth grade in both Adams Spanish Immersion Magnet and Highland Park Elementary will be dropped. Sixth graders from those schools will be moved to Highland Park Junior High.
- No schools are slated for closure.
- L'Etoile Du Nord, the district's French Immersion school, will move to the former site of Open School on Western Avenue, near I-35E and Grand. Open will have moved downtown in 2011-2012.
- Add a K-5 school at the shuttered Roosevelt Elementary, on the city's west side.
- Add three special education programs, at the former sites of: Homecroft Elementary in the Highland neighborhood; Sheridan Elementary on the city's east side; and Wheelock Early Education on the north side.
- Add a 6-8 school at the shuttered Parkway Elementary, on the city's east side.
- Add a 'two-way' Hmong/English immersion program at Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet.
- Citywide transportation will no longer be available to the following schools: Battle Creek Elementary; Frost Lake Magnet; Galtier Magnet; Hancock-Hamline University Collaborative Magnet; Mississippi Creative Arts Magnet; Riverview West Side School of Excellence.
- Citywide transportation will be eliminated for many high school students, except those enrolled in some magnet programs at high schools. For example, at Central High, IB students won't have citywide busing, but French Immersion students will. Transportation changes vary by school site.
- Nokomois Montessori Magnet will split into two campuses; grades 3-5 will attend the former site of Ames Elementary on the city's eastside, while grades K-2 will stay at the current Nokomis site.
- Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet will be changed to include K-5 grades.
- No schools are slated for closure.
- Bridge View school will be expanded into space that formerly housed Four Seasons elementary.
- Remaining magnet schools become community schools (Cherokee Heights, Expo, Jackson, Maxfield)
- All Things Considered, 01/11/2011, 5:24 p.m.