“Strong Schools, Strong Communities” plan proposed for St. Paul schools

With a $27 million shortfall in 2010 and a looming $20 million shortfall in 2011, St. Paul schools have been faced with hard choices. The response, presented by Superintendent Valeria Silva on Tuesday, January 11, is a three-year strategic plan called “Strong Schools, Strong Communities,” placing “schools at the heart of the community.” The plan will now go to six community meetings (see sidebar), and then to a school board vote on March 15.

While the plan covers three years, changes proposed to take effect in September, with the 2011-12 school year, include:

  • Four Seasons A Plus Elementary will close.
  • A Chinese immersion program will begin in Benjamin Mays, beginning with kindergarten in 2011 and adding one grade each year. Benjamin Mays and Museum Magnet, already in the same building, will co-locate, with one principal for both schools in 2011, and then will merge in 2012.
  • American Indian/World Cultures schools, already in the same building, will have one principal in 2011, and will merge in 2012. The school will add seventh grade in 2011-12 and eighth grade in 2012-13.
  • Open World Learning Community (Open School) will change from a K-12 school to a 7-12 school, and will relocate to a downtown site where the Paul & Sheila Wellstone elementary school was formerly located. Creative Arts High School will also move to this site.
  • AGAPE High School will move to the former site of Creative Arts on University Avenue.
  • Five schools will get an additional hour added to the school day: Jackson Preparatory Magnet and Maxfield Magnet (both part of the Promise Neighborhood program), John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary, Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Bluff Elementary, and Franklin/North End.
  • Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet School will get two-way Hmong / English immersion.
  • Ames-Sheridan will add seventh grade in 2011-12 and eighth grade in 2012-13.
  • Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary will get uniforms in 2011-12, add seventh grade in 2012-13, and add eighth grade in 2013-14, as well as having a preK-6th grade prep program.
  • Adams Spanish Immersion Magnet and Highland Park Elementary will both move their sixth grade classrooms to Highland Park Junior High.

Additional changes in 2012-13 include reopening of programs at the now-closed Roosevelt (K-5), Homecroft (ECFE and special education), Sheridan (special education), Wheelock (special education) and Parkway (middle school, 6-8) sites.

Community information sessions 

• Thursday, January 27, Ames/Sheridan (Area A-northeast) 7-8:30 p.m.
• Monday, January 31, Central (Area F-southwest) 7-8:30 p.m.
• Saturday, February 5, Wellstone (Area C-north central) 9:30-11 a.m.
• Monday, February 7, Como Senior High (Area E-northwest) 7-8:30 p.m.
• Thursday, February 10, Humboldt (Area D-south central) 7-8:30 p.m.
• Monday, February 14, Harding (Area B-southeast) 7-8:30 p.m.

The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan on March 15.

Overall, the strategic plan focuses on three goals: achievement, alignment, and sustainability, with the heaviest focus on the goal of achievement to address what SPPS describes as the “predictable pattern of lower achievement for students based on income, race and ethnicity.”

According to documents on the SPPS website, the goal of achievement will be met with strategies including

  • “managed instruction” with more uniform curriculum
  • more teacher training and support
  • more frequent assessments throughout the school year so teachers can adjust instruction to individual student needs.
  • more supports for students, including academic specialists in all schools, increased extended day programs, and increased tutoring.

The second goal – alignment – focuses on quality choices for all students in their own communities. By 2014, the plan calls for “consistent, reliable academic supports at every school (academic specialists, nurses, libraries, classroom technology, family and mental health supports)” and clear K-12 pathways for each student, with the district organized in six geographic areas.

That would mean less busing and fewer magnet schools. Magnets are not needed for either academic achievement or integration goals, according to the planning documents. “Data shows that students do better in schools closer to home,” according to the presentation, and “Saint Paul is a naturally integrated city.”

“Achievement, alignment and sustainability. We will focus all of our efforts in these three areas to build the strong schools that will become the heart, and the hope, of our communities.” Superintendent Valeria S. Silva

The focus of the strategic plan is on community schools, with busing offered within each of the six geographic areas: Area A-Northeast, Area B-Southeast, Area C-North Central, Area D-South Central, Area E-Northwest, and Area F-Southwest.

Regional magnet schools could serve two or more geographic areas and a limited number of district magnets would enroll (and transport) students from the entire city. Four kinds of magnets are proposed:

  • language/culture – Spanish, Hmong, American Indian, French, Mandarin
  • science – aerospace, bioSMART, environmental
  • arts – music, performing, visual
  • academic – Montessori, online, International Baccalaureate, Gifted and Talented, Prep School, Achievement Plus

If approved, the new geographic alignment would phase in over three years, beginning with high schools in 2012 and elementary and middle schools in 2013. (Currently enrolled 9th and 10th graders will be grandfathered into their present high schools.) The district has prepared an individual information sheet for each school, detailing what the plans for that school are for the next three years.

The third goal set out in the strategic plan is sustainability: “SPPS will work with unions, the city, the county and our funding partners to preserve programs, services and staffing. Funding will be centralized to better distribute resources where they are needed most and investments will be made in programs with proven results.”

The plan is short on dollars-and-cents details, but points to expected increases in enrollment as a way to generate additional funding: “Schools are rewarded for increasing achievement both by the State and the marketplace. More students in a public school district mean more revenue. … Our projection shows that we will gain 3-4 percent in market share over the next five years.”

The documents say that enrollment in 2010-11 is up by 400 students over the projections for the year. That doesn’t represent an increase in actual enrollment over the previous year, however – actual enrollment reported in 2010-11 dropped by 1,459 students.  (Total enrollment was 39,239 in 2009-2010 and 37,780 in 2010-11, according to district figures.)

For more information on the strategic plan, see the Strong Schools, Strong Communities website.

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