Pressured by declining enrollment and funding, the St. Paul School Board decided on April 21 to restructure Arlington High School as a 7th-10th grade school, forcing hundreds of sophomores and seniors to find other schools. Arlington senior Mariah Davis chronicles a week of activism and emotion as students tried to save their school.
On April 14, while most students in the state of Minnesota were fretting about their MCAs, the students at Arlington Senior High in St. Paul were distraught over news the district wanted to shut down their school.
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The district plans to move Washington Technology Middle School to Arlington and turn it into a 7-10 secondary school, later to become grades 7-11 for the year 2012 and grades 7-12 by 2013.
That means upcoming juniors and seniors at Arlington would be forced out to other high schools. “This is the hardest decision I have ever had to make,” Superintendent Valeria Silva said at a community meeting at Arlington about the proposal.
The proposal came as a response to a budget shortfall of about $27.2 million in the Saint Paul Public School District.
Silva also proposed:
- making elementary school music programs an after-school option,
- cutting junior high sports,
- shutting down Ames Elementary, Franklin Magnet School, Prosperity Heights, Sheridan Elementary, and Hazel Park Middle School,
- and “co-locating” Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary and Washington Technology Middle School in Arlington High School’s building.
After a week of debate, the school board’s final decisions were to:
- close Arlington Senior High School,
- move Washington Technology Middle and Paul & Sheila Wellstone Elementary into Arlington’s building,
- “co-locate” Hazel Park Middle School Academy into Battle Creek Middle School’s building, Ames Elementary and Sheridan Elementary into Hazel Park Middle School Academy, Franklin Music Magnet into North End Elementary and Prosperity Heights Elementary into Hayden Heights Elementary.
Other changes to offset the budget shortfall include:
- eliminating eight administration positions,
- closing four school pools,
- making individual schools financially responsible for Athletic field maintenance,
- keeping athletic programs at middle and junior high schools that currently have athletic programs, and
- changing music classes into a program offered through the Alternative Learning Center Extended Day program.
Arlington teachers and students have expressed concern that by moving out the 11th and 12th graders, students would be put in jeopardy when they apply for colleges.
Students like Billy Moua, who was supposed to be a captain of Arlington’s Navy Junior ROTC next year, would more than likely be denied those honors at their new schools. Students would lose their class rankings right before applying to colleges and would not be able to participate in the clubs, sports and organizations they did before.
Arlington Students were furious when they heard what was going to happen and within 24 hours there was a group on Facebook, Save Arlington where students and teachers discussed strategy on changes to request on the original proposal.
Students and teachers decided to ask the district to integrate Washington Middle school and Arlington right away, creating a 7-12 Junior and Senior High School.
For the rest of the week students came to school wearing Arlington sweatshirts and t-shirts and apparel to show off the programs offered at Arlington. Posters emblazoned with “Save the school!” covered the halls of the building.
On Friday April 16, a mass text message started going around the school encouraging students to protest by walking out of the school by noon. But students and teachers discouraged the idea because staff would’ve been put in the position of having to prevent the walkout.
No walkout happened, but Silva came to the building to address the issues of the students that day. But Silva “beat around the bush and didn’t answer any questions,” Junior LaDawn Morris said.
Rick Faust, a social studies teacher who has taught at Arlington since it opened in 1996, encouraged students to get more people outside the school involved in fighting the proposed changes. “We need parents, we need community,” he said.
After school that day, dozens of students gathered to call supporters from the government and community and to write letters to school board members to urge them to vote against the proposal to displace upcoming Arlington 11th and 12th graders.
The following Monday – April 19 – parents, students, and community members gathered together at Arlington High School to meet with the school board.
“Usually I would be afraid to get up and speak like this,” said sophomore Diego Trejo, “That fear is overpowered by what would happen if I didn’t.”
Many students wept as they begged the board to let them stay, but the board couldn’t make any decisions until its meeting the following night.
At the meeting on the 19th, people spoke about all the proposed changes, from the music program to co-locating elementary schools. But the room was flooded with Arlington Students dressed in blue, the school’s color, and holding posters and banners to show their support for their school.
Before the students and community members even spoke, the board proposed a new idea for Arlington – allow the class of 2011 to graduate from the school as long as they are on track to graduate.
But the class of 2012 would still need to transfer to a new school. Junior Yer Vang and sophomore Kayla Vang, her sister, cried when they heard the new idea.
The sisters have always gone to school together and this proposal would force them to be split up. “When you count grades like 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, you don’t leave out the 11th,” Yer Vang said.
Students, teachers and parents spoke until about 11 p.m.
Senior Aprill Moua accused the board of not listening to students in other meetings.
“The students of Arlington deserve to continue and conclude their education in the building of their choice – Arlington. Any other decision would be unfair to them,” Faust, the social studies teacher, said to the board.
After the students spoke, the board chose to wait until Wednesday the 21st to make their final decision.
In the end, the board made the decision to close down Arlington and make it a 7-10 Washington Secondary Technology school. They agreed that the class of 2011 can remain as long as there were 150 of them on track to graduate.
“Problem is there are 167 Arlington current juniors on track to graduate,” said junior Jeremiah Osokpo, “and at least 30 of them are (English Language Learners).”
The ELL program would not be continued next year at Arlington due to the budget cuts, so that means there is no way 150 seniors will enroll for next year, which means no Arlington students will continue on at the school.
“Basically, they set us up to fail,” Osokpo said.
Most students have agreed to change schools, including many freshmen who could enroll at Washington Technology Middle School next year.
But Freshman Elvis Barkclay decided to leave the St. Paul School District and attend Roseville Area High School because he knows that funding goes where the students go and he no longer supports the Saint Paul Public School district.
However, Junior Shue Yang and his friend Lawtoua Vang have both decided to stay at Washington if there is a senior class so that they can graduate together with their friends. However, it looks like there won’t be enough eligible seniors to make that possible.
Sophomore Guola Abdullahi would have been the sixth and final child in his family to graduate from Arlington High School. “When I take my seat at the back of that crowded classroom at Central next year, I will be asking: Why?”