NEWS | HEADLINES


St. Paul Public Schools’ Strategic Plan Announced
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Challenges to West End Schools Draw Strong Responses 

by JERRY ROTHSTEIN

St. Paul Public Schools has announced a significant change in direction in its 2011-2014 Strategic Plan. Under the general rubric “Strong Schools, Strong Communities,” Superintendant Valeria Silva and her staff promise to address achievement, alignment and sustainability and place schools “at the heart of the community.”

Outstanding education for some students is not satisfactory — the goal is an outstanding education for all students.

Present available choices do not do enough to address the achievement gap. Aiming to provide students with quality choices “in their own community,” the plan promises that all schools will have academic specialists, nurses, libraries, classroom technology, family and mental health supports. Expensive busing across the system will be replaced with streamlined, regional transportation to access community and magnet options.

The present financial challenges—a $20 million budget shortfall—need to be tackled by choosing ways to assure core function success and positive results for students. Sustainability also depends on nurturing partnerships and shared accountability involving principals, teachers, students, families and community organizations.

West End schools are seriously affected by the plan.
  • Two elementary programs would close after this year: Four Seasons A+ Elementary and the K-6 portion of Open World Learning Community.
  • Grades 7-12 at OWLC move to the new Downtown Secondary School (formerly Wellstone Elementary), along with Creative Arts High School 9-12. By 2013 the Open 7-12 phases to 9-12.
  • In 2012 the French Immersion school L’Etoile du Nord moves into the OWLC building.
  • Bridge View Special Education School would move into the Four Seasons space and expand its capacity.
  • Adams Spanish Immersion would lose grade 6 (relocated to Highland Park Middle School) but would continue to be a citywide magnet.
[IMAGE]Responses and reactions to this scale of change are always significant, especially when the news is announced “cold,” with little prior community consultation. Information sessions have been scheduled, to be sure.

A significant number of parents have responded urgently. Jo Heinz reports of the attendance of large numbers of Four Seasons A+ parents and students at the January 18 School Board meeting, and one of those parents provides her own perspective in a “Neighbors Speak Out” essay. Other related activities include action from parents of L’Etoile du Nord protesting the relocation of their school. As we go to press, some activity around Open World Learning Community is also scheduled.

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I
n the End is the Beginning | 2.11[IMAGE]
PVP Programs Gaining New Sponsors

by JERRY ROTHSTEIN

In a moving ceremony at the West Seventh Community Center on January 19, long-serving staff and board members of Partners for Violence Prevention reviewed their history and accomplishments and announced that already some of the seeds they planted are finding new, fertile ground. These are the programs that have gained support so far:

Empowerment Groups for Teenage Hmong Girls was started in three St. Paul Junior High Schools to increase the confidence and self-esteem of 85 girls ages 11-14. The Hmong girls group was only scheduled to go through to the end of 2010 with facilitator Der Her. While she is on maternity leave, her agency, SOS, plans to evaluate the program to see if they will continue it.

Media and Masculinity: Socialized Expectations: This program worked with innovative research on the role of media in boys’ socialization toward accepting violent behavior as a measurement of masculinity. The media and masculinity program was done by an independent contractor that PVP was paying. It is our understanding he will continue the program on his own.

West 7th Family Center: This program offered drop-in play time for parents and caregivers that increase socialization opportunities for both caregivers and children and hosted over 3,000 parents, caregivers and preschoolers each year who participated in both structured and unstructured activities. The Family Center received bridging funds through United Way to secure ongoing programming. While the classes at the Family Center (for example yoga, music, sign language and art) are being evaluated and discussed with Community Center staff and parents to see what programs, new or old, will continue, The Family Center is temporarily open and staffed by the West Seventh Community Center, thanks to a generous donor.

Paws 4 Peace: Animal-assisted Therapy for Children in Domestic Violence Shelters: Paws 4 Peace is an innovative art-facilitated program for children in domestic violence shelters. Paws 4 Peace works with those who have witnessed and/or experienced abuse and is a critical program for teaching empathy skills to young children, a key step of breaking the cycle of violence. Paws 4 Peace has been adopted by Women’s Advocates. They had commitments with five of the seven shelters so far to continue this work.

Safe Harbors Youth Intervention Project (SHYIP): Each year there are 200 to 300 Hmong girls reported missing in St. Paul. Midwest Children’s Resource Center reports that 75% of Hmong girls they treat have experienced gang rape, multiple perpetrators or prostitution. In assessing the nature of the runaway and sexually exploited youth problem in Ramsey County, this project works to identify the needs of these youth and their families, each agency’s responsibilities, the resources available to serve youth, and gaps in the system that need to be addressed. The central goal of this project is to create a protocol, through cooperative effort, that will coordinate, assist and respond to runaway and sexually exploited youth. Over 30 agencies in Ramsey County participate in this project.

Ramsey County Sexual Assault Protocol Team (RCSAPT). PVP facilitated and led this multidisciplinary group. It has developed and implemented culturally sensitive victim-centered protocols and training to improve services to victims of sexual assault.

PVP was the fiscal agent for SHYIP and RSCSAPT and facilitated their meetings. That grant cycle was completed December 31, 2010, and it is likely two of the participating agencies will take over its leadership (Sexual Offence Services of Ramsey County and Casa de Esperanza/Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women).

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Neighbors Seek Solutions to Save Four Seasons A+ Despite Budget Constraints
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by JO HEINZ[IMAGE]

More than 100 people attended a School Board meeting on Jan. 18, where they discussed “Strong Schools, Strong Communities: Strategic Plan 2011-2014” and how it will be implemented over the next three years.

The group as a whole was very attentive and respectful, but unhappy with the slated elimination of Four Seasons A+ Elementary School, an arts magnet school; the relocation of L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion; and the reduction and relocation of Open World Learning Community magnet school. More than 70 people spoke, consisting of teachers, parents and students, who offered many very moving speeches, often filling the room with tears. The discussion part of the meeting took more than several hours, as the Board gave everyone who wanted to speak a two-minute opportunity.

Superintendent Valeria Silva stressed the importance of providing choice to families and the collaboration of schools, city, and community services working together to improve services as well as reducing budget woes. She explained change in phases over the next three years, 2011 through 2012 that allows plenty of time to adjust and serve families in the best way.

Adele Vinning had a child who attended K-6 grade at Four Seasons and admitted confusion about the school closing — supposedly the enrollment numbers are dwindling, but actually Four Seasons has maintained enrollment and added a 30-40 prekindergarten increase. The school has reduced the “learning gap” that concerns the District. Since there are other buildings being reopened and the real estate that the school occupies is more valuable, she said, “Take our building, but not our school.”

[IMAGE]Other parents were unhappy with the school choice program, as the information they needed about Four Seasons as well as the other two magnet schools had not been provided to them until the selection process was about to end.

Neighbors on the East Side believed they had the most to lose should Four Seasons close. Many had moved into the neighborhood due to the opportunities the school had to offer, including the Discovery Program that helped working parents with day care. One survey that was presented indicated that 89% of parents would move if necessary to continue the Four Seasons program and 69% would revert to a traditional school year. (Currently Four Seasons is a year-round school.) Although 70% of residents are around the poverty level, parent-teacher conferences are strong, making the school a valuable asset in its present location. Some parents saw no need to stay in St. Paul if the program should end, since their children had gained self-confidence and were enthusiastically occupied during the summer months with taking part in the school’s theater production.

“When (my children) leave my home they enter another.” Alicia Bertrand described her experience with Four Seasons. Her daughter Winter, who explained she didn’t like to speak publicly, did so because of her passion for her school and the programs they offered to her and her brother. Another mother had everyone in tears as she spoke about her daughter learning the United Nations pledge that they recite in class — the effect not only socially relevant to the neighborhood, but also experienced on a global scale while educating students. Many parents echoed the sentiment that the staff knew them, and that their children, no matter what their abilities or background, felt “honored” in a “culture of respect.”

Another parent spoke of how difficult it was for him to find a school that could accommodate his autistic son. The son’s teacher said she “picked” him; that she looked forward to having the boy in her class. A mother and her second grade son spoke — she was grateful for a smaller school as she believed that at a larger school her son would be more likely to be bullied, as he spoke with a lisp. One ten-year-old girl spoke of how her ability to learn was enhanced by the arts program. She said, “It’s hard to forget the digestive system when you have to sing a song about it!”

Many stepped forward to make suggestions about using apparently vacant buildings, or merging several schools, or even changing school locations. All parents and staff realized that budget constraints were bringing about changes in the district — all they wanted was to preserve their school programs within the framework the school board had previously discussed. For more information or to voice concerns, go to spps.org.

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Community Visioning Meeting on the Calendar |
2.11[IMAGE]

Planning for the Community Reporter’s March 9 visioning meeting begins early February. Exploring the question, “In 2020, what kind of community do you want to live in?” remains a continuing challenge, and we look toward planning the second community visioning meeting to allow maximum participation and open forum, while still covering the range of issues that we need to be aware of.

All West End residents or workers are welcome to join the planning group. Call Jerry Rothstein at 651-587-8859 for further information, or send your thoughts by mail or drop off to Community Reporter, 265 Oneida St. 55102, or by e-mail to editor@communityreporter.org.

Reserve the date on your calendar: March 9, 2011, 6:30 p.m. at the West Seventh Community Cente
-- Jerry Rothstein

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