Around 40 attendees filled the assembly hall of Johnson High School and waited for St. Paul Public Schools elementary assistant superintendents, Sharon Freeman and Andrew Collins, to talk about the new Strong Schools, Strong Communities strategic plan. The November 1 meeting, one of a series focused on the initiative, was especially for the parents of Area A, to present the schools and choices of this area.
Andrew Collins introduced the latest Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan and explained that Saint Paul Public Schools wants to encourage students to attend their neighborhood schools in order to develop a better community. The new strategic plan aims to increase the achievement of the student’s potential, and improve alignment to provide a quality school choice and sustainability.
In a change in school organization, the sixth grade will move to middle schools, so that elementary schools are just K-5 grades. Community school zones are designed in a new way and busing will be provided to all community schools.
These new features seemed to make the parents unsure because they asked many questions about how to choose the best school for their children.
Sharon Freeman explained with a map, which was provided to each attendee, how parents can choose the best school for their kids. Freeman stressed that parents still have a lot of choice but that there are differences in the transportation. For example, children who attend community schools will also get busing. If a child goes to a school outside the neighborhood, no busing will be provided and the parents have to take care of the transportation by themselves.
Regional magnet schools, such as the Capitol Hill Gifted & Talented Magnet will still have busing provided. While Freeman presented the map, the audience was very quiet and listened concentrated to understand all the different possibilities.
The question and answer session showed that the parents were very concerned about the new zones and the question of transportation. They asked many questions about why busing could not be provided to schools outside the community and voiced fears that the new system will support inequality. SPPS representatives said there is a lot of choice of different schools with different focuses like languages, science or arts. One mother was upset that her children should go to the Johnson High School because this would be her community school; however this high school does not serve the music talents of her children as the main focuses of Johnson High School are engineering and advanced placement.
Other attendees agreed that the schools are not equal in their offerings, but Collins and Freeman assured that this problem will be solved in the coming years.
After the question and answer session, the attendees had the opportunity to speak with principals of the different schools. There were lively discussions and conversations at the fair, which was held in the hallway, and included representatives from SPPS district staff, community education, and the student placement center.
Sharon Freeman and Andrew Collins also gave hepful tips for choosing schools. They said the best way to get to know the schools is to schedule a visit and get familiar with the offerings. However, there is also a website – http://apply.spps.org/ – where parents can compare the different choices. Furthermore, a school selection guide will be published later this fall and a school choice fair is scheduled for January 12.