St. Paul Public Schools on Monday unveiled plans to close and merge several buildings mired by declining enrollment as early as next fall.
Superintendent Joe Gothard said the consolidation will save some money, but the main goal is to create large enough schools that each can offer a well-rounded education, with classes in the arts, sciences and various support staff.
The school board is holding a special meeting on the plan Monday. The district plans to hold a series of meetings with affected schools before the school board votes on the plan either Nov. 16 or Dec. 14.
The plans, which will affect 9 percent of students in the district, are summarized below:
After a nine-year experiment, the district is giving up on Montessori middle school.
Parkway opened as a Montessori school in 2013 but never came close to filling the building. Turner said that while Nokomis Elementary students typically followed the Montessori pathway to Parkway, JJ Hill families picked other schools.
Chief Academic Officer Kate Wilcox-Harris said Parkway was among the first Montessori middle schools in the country and struggled to find teachers with the appropriate licenses.
Parkway would remain open, however, reborn as the district’s first middle school for Hmong Dual Immersion.
The move to create a middle school pathway for the program comes with a consolidation at the elementary level.
Jackson Elementary would close, sending its 159 Hmong language students to Phalen Lake. Jackson’s 143 students who are not in the language program would be steered to Maxfield.
A NEW OBAMA
Obama Elementary, dramatically underutilized with 313 students, would close next fall for a renovation. When it reopens, it would house a regular middle school in one half of the building and a Montessori elementary school in the other.
Its Montessori students would from JJ Hill, which would close, and Cherokee Heights, which would become a regular community school. JJ Hill would only close once the Obama renovation is complete.
Turner said families in the Cherokee Heights neighborhood aren’t particularly interested in the Montessori model.
FRENCH, SPANISH IMMERSION
The two East Side campuses of L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion would consolidate. Closing the lower campus and sending those students to the upper campus would put the new school at 77 percent of building capacity, with 364 students, according to fall 2020 enrollment.
Chief Operating Officer Jackie Turner said L’Etoile du Nord once was “one of our top-choice schools,” but demand fell when the district opened Jie Ming Mandarin Immersion.
Wellstone Elementary would close and send its Spanish Dual Immersion students to Riverview, which will become solely an immersion school. Wellstone’s Biosmart students would be steered toward a community school or science magnet.
Riverview students who aren’t in the immersion program would be steered to Cherokee Heights.
Fulfilling a merger that the school board narrowly rejected in 2016, Galtier Elementary would close and send its 189 students to Hamline. Galtier could become a hub for early childhood programs.
John A Johnson, with 299 students last year, would close and merge with nearby Bruce Vento Elementary next fall. Meanwhile, the district would begin designing a new school on the Bruce Vento site; the district recently scrapped plans to renovate the building because of high cost estimates.
Facilities Director Tom Parent said Bruce Vento is one of the few sites in the district where he can build a new school without disrupting ongoing classes.
Highwood Hills Elementary, with 192 students last year, would close. The nearest elementary schools for those students are Dayton’s Bluff and Battle Creek.
Turner said many families with East African roots live in apartments close to Highwood Hills and use the building’s rec center, but they’re enrolling in charter schools instead.
IMMIGRANT HIGH SCHOOL
LEAP High School, which serves students new to the country, would close. Its 144 students could enroll in language programs at other high schools.
The district has watched enrollment fall for several years, due in large part to increased competition from charter schools. Yet, the district has added to its portfolio.
As total enrollment dropped by 3,526 students between 2014 and 2020, the district opened two more buildings. It bought E-STEM Middle School in Woodbury and built the K-12 special education school RiverEast, moving Jie Ming out of Hamline and into RiverEast’s old location.
This year, the district started an online school in response to parent demand driven by the coronavirus pandemic. It has around 1,300 students, and the district is considering keeping it open to all grades permanently — not just high schoolers, as initially planned.
Turner said the district has no immediate plans to sell any of the schools it’s vacating. District leaders hope the reorganization will create the kind of schools that families want, which will create demand for more.
“We believe that if we build a strong program, they will come,” she said.