Concerns, Challenges and Suggestions: Improving mostly counterproductive Envision proposals from St Paul Public Schools

The following statement of concerns and suggestions for improvement have been developed by a city-wide, multi-racial, multi-generational group of St Paul public school parents, students, educators, grandparents and community members.  It has been shared with SPPS school board members.

 

Possible Next Steps – Serve Our Students

 

In response to the St Paul Public Schools Envision proposal, we offer several challenges, and then, research-based suggestions for improving student outcomes and increasing K-12 Enrollment.  This is the 18th draft. It reflects insights and suggestions from people from through

 

I Concerns

We are a multi-cultural, multi-generational group, representing thousands of families, youth and community members in St. Paul, throughout the city.   We have questions and suggestions for the St Paul School Board about the Envision Plan. We share the district’s desire to provide an equitable, well-rounded education for all students.  We believe at a time of great challenge for St Paul students, families and educators, the proposed Envision plan could well

 

School Year      SPPS K-12 Enrollment       St Paul Charter Enrollment  Total

 

2005-06            40,647                              5,085                                             45,732

2011-12             37,063                                 9,014                                           46,077

2017-18             36,087                               14.022                                          50,109

2020-21             33,735                               16,429                                          50,164

 

In fact, the number of students attending public schools in St Paul (district & charter) has increased by thousands of students over the last 10 and 15 years). The district COULD – by taking certain steps – attract and retain more students.

St Paul Public Schools took more than 15 months to create a strategic plan.  In the four years since the Superintendent was hired, the district has not yet fully implemented a cultural informed/culturally competent despite numerous concerns and requests by families.  This has helped produce the exodus of thousands of families.  Yet the district wants the school to close schools affecting more than 3,000 students – less than 2 months after notifying the public.  Is this the way to build confidence in the district?

The district centered its plan on the definition of “well rounded education.”  But the SPPS list of committee members for the discussion of “well rounded education” does not list a single parent, student or teacher.

As explained below, the district has ignored research showing that smaller schools are NOT necessarily more expensive, that they are safer, and that they have higher student achievement when similar groups of students are compared. In fact, SPPS administrators have STOPPED saying that their proposals will save money.

This and research below leads us to urge that the school board insist on answers to questions and vote NO on most school closing decisions.  Exceptions noted below

Questions to consider:  What are the specific, measurable goals of the Envision plan?  Will it help SPPS retain students, increase enrollment? Will schools be safer? Will it reduce discipline problems? Will achievement improve? Given the loss of almost 10% of SPPS Enrollment in the last few years, how many central office positions will be eliminated? As those ultimately responsible for SPPS $800+ million budget.  school board members should adopt clear, measurable goals.  A “well-rounded education” is imprecise.

 

II Proposed Action Steps

  1. Make research based investments to expand early childhood programs over the next year.  Not all early childhood programs are equally effective. For example, Dr. Arthur Reynolds of the University of Minnesota, who was cited during the recent presentation, wrote “the impacts of early childhood programs vary substantially in magnitude, consistency, and duration. Differences in program quality, teaching practices, timing and duration, and levels of school and family support are contributing factors.”  Programs that meet once or twice a week for a few hours, for example, do not have nearly the positive impact of programs that work daily, or four days a week with families and youngsters.  We urge a discussion with Dr. Reynolds before moving ahead on expanding early childhood programs.
  2. Given that families repeatedly cite lack of inclusiveness in SPPS curriculum as one reason for leaving the district, hire outstanding  SPPS & metro area educators to offer professional development in summer, 2022 to help increase number of SPPS courses helping K-12 students learn about strengths & experience of all local cultures. 
  3. Hire an independent, outside group of culturally competent people who have access to people who speak global languages spoken in St Paul, to conduct a formal review of the SPPS placement office.  There have been numerous concerns expressed by families about the Placement Office.
  4. Require the superintendent to present clear, measurable goals related to student achievement before the board votes on these proposals This is based on  “Best practices” from GovernmentFinancial Officers Association report (SPPS Chief Financial Officer is a member of this group). She distributed their report stating ““Clear goals for student achievement should guide how resources are allocated. Tracking progress or making tough budget decisions to prioritize programs and strategies is not possible without specific goals.” 
  5. Hire community members to explore move of some social service agencies into schools. In many communities, these shared facilities, i.e. “community schools” provide better service to students and families.  Agencies also pay modest rent, help pay building operation costs.

6. Hold a committee of the board meeting to review and discussion use of research about safety, costs and achievement in small, versus large elementary schools.  A federally funded review of 103 studies concluded: ““For both elementary and secondary students of all ability levels and in all kinds of settings, research has repeatedly found small scanchools to be superior to large schools on most measures and equal to them on the rest.”

a. Smaller schools are safer.  Safety is one of the explicit reasons cited in SPPS sponsored research for the thousands of students leaving the district in the last few years.

b. Small schools are not necessarily more expensive than larger schools when all costs are included.  For example, closing small neighborhood schools will add additional transportation costs.  SPPS already  faces huge challenge transporting its students.

c. Achievement is higherbehavior is better in smaller schools.

d. What are examples of small schools (300 and under) that offer a “well-rounded education.” What can be learned?

  1. Provide opportunities for SPPS educators and families to replicate local schools with waiting lists and/or create new, potentially more attractive options opening in fall, 2023.This has been done in Boston, Los Angeles and other cities.  Educator/family suggested options such as SPPS Montessori elementary schools and Open World have been popular. In 2011, the SPPS Board approved this idea but administration didn’t follow through. Meanwhile, the combined charter/district enrollment  is thousands more than 5 years ago. So while St Paul birth rate may have declined, overall number of students attending public schools (charter + district) in St Paul has increased by thousands of students since 2011-12, despite changes in birth rate.  District officials have not mentioned this fact.  Explore ways that the district can provide a more personalized, individualized well-rounded education for all students.  For example, Open World holds goal setting conferences each August with every student and family.  So do some chartered public schools.  Recent research shows that growing numbers of Minnesota families are seeking this.  For many families, this is part of a well-rounded education.
  2. NOT close any schools with the exception of schools whose representative family groups strongly agree.  There are several such schools.  For example, families sending their children to the SPPS L’Etoile du Nord
    French Immersion programs have indicated their support for a merging of the two buildings.

 

We would be glad to discuss these items in greater detail.

Musayba Ali, parent

Francie Anthony, retired SPPS teacher

Dr. Michelle Benegas, Professor of ESL teacher education at Hamline University, consultant to the district co-leading the Cultivating Asset-Based Practices for Multilingual Learners initiative, parent of 3 bicultural SPPS students, former SPPS teacher

Abdinur Barkat, SPPS parent

James Bradford, III, parent of two SPPS students

Paula Copeland, SPPS parent

Halimo Daud, parent

Jennifer Davis, activist

Tom Dimond

Faith Dietz, SPPS parent

Tom Doyle, Educator

Tonya Draughn, Minnesota Delegate National Parents Union Executive Director, Uplift MN

Tina Fahnestock, retired SPPS speech and language pathologist and parent of SPPS graduate

Natasha Fleischman, former SPPS teacher

Emily Flower, parent of a SPPS graduate

Laura Ford-Nathan, MD, SPPS parent

John Gehan, St Paul resident

Abdisalan Gure, Parents for Highwood Hills

Berit Higuera, SPPS parent

Jack and Linda Hoeschler

Mark Hughes

Faysal Khalif, St Paul parent

Mike Kluznik, retired public school teacher

Wayne Jennings, retired SPPS principal

Brook LaFloe, SPPS graduate and  Founder/Operator of Niniijaanis One of Ones

Hlee-Lee Kron, SPPS graduate & business owner

Tom Lindner,  St Paul resident

May Esperanza Losloso SPPS graduate and ECFE African American parent

John Manillo, St Paul resident and activist

Jennifer McPherson SPPS parent and activist

Hodan Mohamud, Parents for Highwood Hills

David Nathan,  PsyD LP,  graduate of Saint Paul Public Schools and SPPS parent

JoAnn Nathan, SPPS educator for more than 33 years, parent of 3 SPPS Graduates and Grandparent of 5 current SPPS students

Joe Nathan, PhD, Parent of 3 SPPS graduates, grandparent of 5 SPPS students, 14 years as an educator in St Paul Public Schools, Director, Center for School Change

Davina Newman, 2017 SPPS graduate

MK Nguyen, mother

Katie Novotny, parent of two SPPS students

Steven Nystedt

Sasha Odermann-Karr, former SPPS parent

Matt Olson, Educator

Khulia Pringle, Midwest & Puerto Rico Regional Organizer National Parents Union/Brightbeam Activist

Khalique Rogers, SPPS Graduate and St. Paul College graduate

Ubah Shire, community member, activist

Robin Shields-Cutler, SPPS parent and Assistant Professor of Biology, Macalester College

Tim Sunde, graduate of SPPS, St Paul resident & parent who withdrew my child from SPPS

Omar Syed, SPPS parent, business owner

Sai Thao, SPPS Parent and Alum

Terri Thao, SPPS Alum and community member

Jacqueline Thomas, Saint Paul Parent

Daoud Weiss, parent

Michelle Bricker West, SPPS Parent