The St. Paul school board unanimously approved a sweeping plan to reorganize the district on Tuesday night. The three-year plan will divide the district into six attendance areas, close some schools and end citywide busing for many schools in hopes that students will attend schools closer to home.
Board director Keith Hardy, who said he was a slow convert to the plan, called the vote “a great opportunity” that he hoped would bring more volunteers into the classrooms.
When Superintendent Valeria Silva introduced the plan at the meeting, she noted that the district was still using a system that had been created in the 1970s. “We are still doing what we were doing 30 years ago,” she said. “We have a system that produces outstanding results in a few schools.” The district needs a system that would provide outstanding results in all schools, she said.
Her plan, Strong Schools, Strong Communities, is designed to put “great schools in every corner of our district,” she said.
The board listened to public comments for almost three hours. While many of the speakers spoke in favor of the program, a number of parents and students stated the new plan would limit choice in the district and diminish diversity in the schools.
Find out more:
To find out more about Strong Schools, Strong Communities, go to the district’s web page.
St. Paul NAACP President Jeffry Martin and Tyrone Terrill, president of the African American Leadership Council (AALC), encouraged the board to table the plan for at least 90 days to address concerns about segregation and to look at creating a curriculum that is inclusive and would address the district’s achievement gap.
A group of tenth-graders from Central High School wearing T-shirts that said “Don’t Destroy Our Diversity” raised concerns that the plan would do just that. Emma Grundhauser, one of the students, urged the board to delay the vote.
But St. Paul City Council member Melvin Carter III, a member of the AALC, said he supported the plan. A St. Paul Central graduate and a leader in the Promise Neighborhood initiative at Jackson and Maxfield elementary schools, Carter represents the Frogtown-Summit University neighborhoods where a third of the population is African American, he said, but some schools have enrollments of almost 90 percent African-American students.
The district reorganization would help the schools “better reflect the diversity of St. Paul,” he said. “Please do not delay. Please don’t hesitate. Please take action today.”
Changes that have been made to the plan since it was introduced in January include keeping Four Seasons elementary open but moving it to a new location and ending its year-round status, expanding the Creative Arts school to serve grades 6-12 and keeping L’Etoile du Nord on the East Side but splitting the campus between the Prosperity Heights and Ames buildings, which are about a mile and a half apart.
On March 1, L’Etoile du Nord parents received a letter outlining the dual campus, which would split grades K-5, with sixth-graders articulating to Ramsey Middle School. Many parents spoke against that plan at the board meeting and asked that the district consider a K-8 model.
Silva said parents made it clear that they wanted the school to remain on the East Side, but there is no building large enough to house the whole program. Ideally, she said, it would be best to keep the program in one building.
However, a K-8 program could fit in the two buildings and the administration was “open to embrace it,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, Susan Schmidt, a parent at L’Etoile du Nord, said a K-8 split campus was a “mixed bag. “
“K-8 is attractive,” she said, “but a split campus is not.”
Silva has held 39 large group meetings throughout the city since the plan was introduced.
Here is what will happen with the new plan:
* The city will be divided into six attendance areas and end citywide busing for many of the district schools.
* More than a dozen of the district’s existing elementary magnet schools will become community schools and offer busing only within their area. Current neighborhood schools would draw students from the entire attendance area, though attendance preference areas will be established.
* The district’s sixth-graders will be moved into middle school programs at existing junior high schools in the 2013-14 school year. Adams Spanish Immersion and Highland Park Elementary school sixth-graders will pilot the program this fall.
* A Mandarin Chinese immersion school will open at the former Benjamin E. Mays site.
* Students at Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet will be able to articulate as a cohort to Highland Park High School.
There will still be a number of district-wide magnet schools that will offer busing to students throughout the city. Students will be able to enroll at any school in the district if there is room and if the family provides transportation when the district does not provide it. High schools will begin to limit busing in the 2012-13 school year, but students who are currently enrolled at a high school outside of their attendance area would continue to receive busing through graduation. Most of the elementary and middle school programs will be implemented in the 2013-14 school year.