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Planned school closure at Highwood Hills would again leave neighbors without a rec center

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Planned school closure at Highwood Hills would again leave neighbors without a rec center

If the Highwood Hills elementary school and rec center in St. Paul close next fall, Abdi Barkat expects he’ll move his family out of the neighborhood they’ve lived in for the last seven years.

“The only reason I’m here is for the school,” he said. “The school is very convenient to me, my family and to the neighborhood. They’re walking from school and they’re home, one minute.”

Highwood Hills is one of eight schools that St. Paul Public Schools administrators have proposed closing next fall, displacing 3,000 of the district’s roughly 35,000 students. The school board could vote on the plan next month.

The problem, district leaders say, is they have more buildings than they need for a district with declining enrollment due to charter school competition and low birth rates. They predict a consolidation will enable the remaining schools to offer a more well-rounded education, perhaps bringing families back to the district.

IDEAL SIZE

The district says the ideal size for an elementary school is 450. Highwood Hills has been around 250 in grades K-5 in recent years and just 175 students last fall — about half Somali, followed by Karen and Hispanic students.

Still, the plan to close Highwood Hills has ignited strong pushback.

“The community are very concerned that the school is closing,” said Omar Syed, who owns a coffee shop nearby. “It’s very sad.”

City Councilmember Jane Prince fought to reopen the rec center in 2019, 11 years after it was shuttered during the Great Recession. She said in an email to other city officials Wednesday that closing the building “will have a devastating impact on the East African community and families living in its surrounding high density properties on the East Side.”

Barkat lives in the Afton View apartments, which abut the school and rec center property. A second big apartment complex, Shamrock Court, also is a short walk away.

Having a school so close by is especially helpful to families that share a car or don’t have one at all, Barkat said. The next closest elementary school is Battle Creek, 1.5 miles away. Barkat doesn’t want his kids taking a bus to school because he doesn’t like how kids behave on the bus.

‘A VOID IN THE COMMUNITY’

Jackie Turner, chief operating officer for the school district, said she’s tried to engage the 400 families living in the nearby apartments, but too many still enroll in racially segregated charter schools that provide bus service.

“We do want to acknowledge that this would (leave) a void in that community in having some of that recreation, and it’s a conversation we need to sit down with the community, with the city, with our families in that area there and talk about how we come together and support this building, but trying to support it as a school has not worked out,” she told the school board Monday.

The 2019 reopening of the modest rec center gave the relatively isolated neighborhood a community gathering place. Besides safe opportunities for recreation after school and on weekends, the building serves as a food distribution center during summer and has hosted numerous events, including vaccine clinics during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It connects the community,” Barkat said. If the school closes, “we will lose all those connections.”

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Zillow Gone Wild features $3.4M Missouri tourist attraction Jacob’s Cave

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Zillow Gone Wild features $3.4M Missouri tourist attraction Jacob’s Cave

VERSAILLES, Mo. – Zillow Gone Wild showcases a historical cave and tourist destination in central Missouri that is sure to attract avid spelunkers.

For 90 years, people have congregated just north of Lake of the Ozarks to walk through a mile-long cave system known as Jacob’s Cave.

The cave—believed to have been used by indigenous peoples before European settlement, and by troops during the American Civil War—was rediscovered in 1875 by lead and tiff miner Jacob Craycraft.

According to the historiography on JacobsCave.com, Craycraft moved to Missouri as a young boy with his father and brother from Kentucky.

As the story goes, Craycraft, now an adult, was mining one August day with two other men and a young boy. During a lunch break, they took turns throwing rocks toward what they believed to be a shallow hole. One of the larger rocks went in the hole but made an odd sound upon landing. Craycraft and the men dug around the hole and discovered an entrance to the massive cave system.

Craycraft would explore part of the cave the following day and made note of the discovery on the cave walls. “Jacob Craycraft, the man who discovered this cave, 1875 August 9th,” he wrote. Visitors can see the note on the current tour of the cave.

The cave is being sold along with a 4-bed and 2.5-bath residence, as well as the large workshed and gift shop located on the property. The sprawling 223 acres includes a large open space with well-kept dirt roads, which has been used as a gathering place for swap meets for several years.

You can see more pictures of the cave and the property by visiting the Zillow listing.

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Opinion: Myth busting Colorado’s crime-wave lore

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Two teens arrested Friday in connection to drive-by shooting in Aurora

Pundits across Colorado have begun pushing their pro-incarceration agenda using misleading statistics to exploit our fear of crime for political purposes while trying to drive a wedge in our communities.

With elections coming up, the political motivations are clear. They blame declining incarceration and justice reform policies for causing a “Colorado crime wave.”  While crime has increased in Colorado, and across many other states as well, the pundits are wrong about both the causes and the solutions.

If more incarceration makes us safer, why isn’t the U.S. the safest country in the world? We imprison four to six times more people per capita than almost any other country, even dictatorships like China and Russia.

As an elected official, I am acutely aware that public safety is my primary responsibility. As a lawyer, community non-profit board member, and restorative justice volunteer, I have seen the impact of crime on victims and their families. My heart goes out to them.

As a legislator, my responsibility is to study, analyze and seek to understand complex societal problems and to formulate targeted, responsive and evidence-based policy solutions. Rarely have I found such problems linked to a single cause. As journalist H.L. Mencken famously said, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong.”

It is notable that most criminal justice reform policies have received significant bipartisan support in the Colorado legislature, including measures requiring counsel at first court appearances, eliminating cash bond for petty offenses, requiring bond hearing within 48 hours and prompt release following bail, misdemeanor sentencing reform and the major law enforcement transparency and accountability measure, which passed the Senate almost unanimously. It is also notable that the major contributors to declining incarceration in Colorado were county Sheriff’s and Department of Corrections policies enacted to enhance safety in congregate care facilities in response to COVID-19, not to legislative enactments.

Nevertheless, the pundits and their allies cite a cavalcade of statistics in an attempt to link rising crime and falling incarceration rates with justice reform. While they conclude, without evidence, that there is an inextricable connection, they ignore other factors that might be worthy of consideration as we look for the contributors to violence and increased crime; homelessness up 9%, first-time homelessness up 100%, gun sales up 43%, overdose deaths up 32%. There is also potentially a correlation with crime arising out of increased social isolation related to COVID-19, deteriorating mental health, substance use disorder and the despair and insecurity arising from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The closing of local institutions like schools, churches, synagogues, neighborhood centers, community-based organizations and local programs that had served as community resources has left a void that could also have contributed to crime. Some also cite Colorado’s underfunding K-12 schools, nationally last-place ranking in teacher’s pay per cost-of-living, and suspension/expulsion policies as failing to provide educational opportunities and pathways out of poverty.

A Colorado newspaper collaborative just completed a multi-part series investigating mental health in Colorado. They reported we have the highest rate of mental illness and lowest access to care in the country, and that our system is broken, serving thousands fewer patients now than before the pandemic while turning away the most vulnerable leaving them with no place to go. Colorado Department of Corrections Director Dean Williams says the prison system is the largest institution housing folks struggling with their mental health in the state. Is lack of treatment for behavioral health a contributor to crime — or is rising crime solely attributable to criminal justice reform and too little incarceration as urged by some?

With the notable exception of some Colorado prosecutors and law enforcement, there is broad agreement that mass incarceration has been a huge mistake. Our draconian and mandatory sentences are unjustly severe, ineffective at preventing crime and costing taxpayers millions. DOC’s budget has exploded 1,288% over thirty-five years and now is almost a billion dollars. At the same time, DOC has been notably unsuccessful in correcting or rehabilitating; fully half of the people released from prison are reincarcerated within three years of release.

What I learned at the Wharton Business School is that if your business model is unsuccessful 50% of the time, you should change that model. Mass incarceration is not the solution. I suggest we strive to be smart, nuanced and targeted rather than doubling down on failed policies that simply haven’t worked.

With that in mind, I look forward to working with advocates and colleagues on both sides of the aisle to look at the data, determine the actual causes of crime, and equally importantly, to join them in implementing preventive, deterrence strategies and criminal justice policies that are victim-focused, promote offender accountability, and ensure that our jails are reserved for dangerous, violent and repeat offenders.

I have a holistic vision of public safety in which thriving communities have fully funded schools, robust public services, affordable housing, healthcare and racial, social and economic justice for all. We have a lot of work to do during the 2022 legislative session.

Pete Lee is a Colorado state senator from Colorado Springs.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by email or mail.

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After slow start, rookie RB Michael Carter proved he can carry the load for the Jets

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After slow start, rookie RB Michael Carter proved he can carry the load for the Jets

Michael Carter proved he’s a key building block for the Jets during his rookie season.

The 5-8, 201-pound former North Carolina standout emerged as Gang Green’s lead back after a slow start and he ended up leading Robert Saleh’s team in scrimmage yards (964), which was fourth best among NFL rookies. His final stats included 639 yards on the ground, a strong 4.35 yards per carry, and four touchdowns in 14 games. He added 325 receiving yards.

There’s an argument to be made that if Carter didn’t suffer an ankle injury against the Dolphins in Week 11 (which cost him three games), and a concussion against the Buccaneers, he could have made a charge at a 1,000-yard season. The Jets haven’t had a back go over 1,000 yards since Chris Ivory in 2015.

Regardless, it was a good rookie year, and the Jets go into the offseason knowing they have a key cog in place in their running back room.

Carter’s best trait as a first-year pro was his ability to run through contact. He finished with 558 yards after contact and his per carry average of 3.8 was ninth best in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. In addition, he averaged a broken tackle per 11 rushes (12th highest in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference).

His best game came against the Jaguars in Week 16 when he erupted for 118 yards on 16 carries in Gang Green’s 26-21 victory. He looked to keep things rolling the following week against the Buccaneers and delivered an explosive 55-yard run on the third play of the game. But he was forced out of the game later in the first half with a concussion.

Overall, though, it was a slow start to the season for Carter as the entire Jets offense came out of the gate stuck in the mud. Quarterback Zach Wilson went through his rookie growing pains, Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur struggled early as a first-year play-caller, and the offensive line struggled with chemistry, communication and simply getting the defense blocked.

So there were a bunch of reasons why Carter didn’t produce right from the start. In his first six games, he averaged just 3.48 yards per carry with 202 yards and two touchdowns.

“At the beginning of the year, just speaking from an offensive perspective, we walked around a lot and that’s something that we needed to fix. Because just being candid, like really transparent, a lot of these guys came from San Francisco and you watch one of their games and these guys are like a fricken army, their offense moves like a little army,” Carter said after the Jets season finale against the Bills about the new coaching staff’s ties to the 49ers.

Once the offense got the hang of the system, the production from the backs improved.

“I think we ran the ball better,” Carter said of the Jets down the stretch.

So as the season progressed, and the attention to detail improved, Carter’s production doubled. In the next seven games, he had 418 rushing yards (5.23 average) with two touchdowns and 194 receiving yards.

What helped accelerate Carter’s growth was LaFleur’s development as a play-caller, the offensive line working together better and improved play from the quarterback position.

One key aspect of his game that Carter needs to focus on during the offseason is attacking between the tackles. The bulk of his yards came from running outside the tackles (426, 4.8 average). But his average dropped to 3.7 yards per carry when he took it up the middle.

That’s not all on him, though. The interior offensive line needs to do a better job of creating creases for him. He’ll get better, too, as the interior run blocking improves and he learns how to attack the inside rushing tracks better.

Carter is dynamic running outside the tackles, which is a strength. Once he elevates his inside game, he could become a top tier running back.

Overall, the Jets got great value when they drafted Carter in the fourth round (107th overall) and he showed that he can be the No. 1 back for Gang Green in the future.

If he can stay healthy as a sophomore, 1,000 yards on the ground should be the goal.

JETS ROOKIE REWIND

— Zach Wilson, QB

— Elijah Moore, WR

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