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New 3-year plan closes, retools and reopens St. Paul schools

From MPR News

by 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.

Sixteen magnet schools also will eventually become community schools, meaning the district will no longer provide city-wide transportation to those locations.

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.

During a presentation Tuesday morning at Town and Country Club, Silva also announced that a months-long study of data justifies a move towards more community schools instead of city-wide magnet schools.

While magnets were originally created as a way to integrate students racially, Silva noted the city’s population is already diverse, regardless of where you live in the city. Placing students in community schools, she said, will achieve the same diversity goals.

After years of declining or stagnant enrollment in the St. Paul district — the state’s second largest — Silva’s plan envisions a district that will gain students in coming years, thus creating the need to reopen previously shuttered buildings, including Roosevelt Elementary on the city’s westside. Reopening buildings would be contingent on realizing the boosted enrollments.

More students will want to attend St. Paul schools, officials say, because 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.

Some schools, like Ames/Sheridan, will add grades. Others, like Open school, will lose them. Only one school – Four Seasons Elementary – is slated to close entirely. Others, including Creative Arts High, will move locations.

The district also hopes to save money by re-working its transportation system. Officials say one goal is to offer students more busing options for schools that are located closer to where they live.

The goal is achieved with a newly-drawn map that cuts the city of St. Paul into six areas. Students would be able to access bus transportation to attend any schools within their home areas, but they’d be responsible for their own transportation to attend schools outside their home areas.

Sixteen magnet schools eventually will no longer be eligible for citywide busing. They’ll technically cease being magnet schools, though officials say any theme — like the environment theme at Battle Creek Elementary — can still be a part of the schools.  Estimates on how much the new transportation plan might save the district were not immediately available. There were also no immediate estimates on the entire plan’s cost or savings.

When the plan is fully implemented in 2014, sites that previously housed Ames, Homecroft, Parkway, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Wellstone, and Wheelock schools will have been reopened, if the district meets targeted enrollment gains. Right now, about 73 percent of all students in the city attend St. Paul district schools. Officials hope to boost that to at least 75 percent by 2014, which would mean about 3,500 more students.

Longfellow, Prosperity Heights, and Humboldt Junior High schools — also previously closed — will remain empty. Community meetings to let the public comment on the plans are being scheduled; a school board vote on the plan is slated for mid-March.

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