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Parkway West graduate is now commanding officer of USS Oakland

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Parkway West graduate is now commanding officer of USS Oakland

ST. LOUIS – A 1999 Parkway West High School graduate is now the commanding officer of USS Oakland (LCS 24) Blue Crew.

Cmdr. Derek C. Jaskowiak officially took over during a change of command ceremony on December 3.

The USS Oakland is an Independence-variant littoral combat ship. It is designed to operate in near-shore environments, winning against 21st-century coastal threats. It is also capable of “supporting forward presence, maritime security, sea control, and deterrence.

The Navy Office of Community Outreach said the new command means Jaskowiak has “absolute authority and responsibility to ensure the safe handling of Oakland and the safety, well-being and proficiency of the crew.”

Prior to serving as the commanding officer, Jaskowiak served as Oakland Blue Crew’s executive officer.

Jaskowiak graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2003 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Systems Engineering. While attending school, he was the starting left tackle on the football team. He earned a Master’s of Science degree in Systems Technology from the Naval Post Graduate School in 2004.

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West Siders call for school investment after district drops Montessori program

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West Siders call for school investment after district drops Montessori program

In a virtual meeting Thursday with St. Paul Public Schools leaders, residents of the city’s West Side bemoaned last-minute changes to the district’s schools consolidation plan that figure to take scores of students out of the neighborhood’s two elementary schools.

Superintendent Joe Gothard’s “Envision SPPS” was supposed to strengthen West Side’s Cherokee Heights and Riverview schools and establish strong ties to nearby Humboldt middle and high schools.

The struggling Montessori program at Cherokee Heights would move to J.J. Hill in the Summit-University neighborhood; students in Riverview’s community program would slide over to Cherokee Heights; and Riverview’s Spanish dual-language immersion program would get an influx of students as Wellstone school closed.

But in response to an outcry from Wellstone parents, the school board last month voted to keep that school open. Students wouldn’t be moving into the West Side, after all, but the Montessori program still is moving out.

The changes, which take effect this fall, could leave the two West Side schools with fewer than 400 students — roughly one-third of their combined capacity.

“I don’t see how this is helping when it’s directly taking families away,” West Side parent Shannon Johnson said Thursday.

Community member Carlo Franco said the consolidation plan went through a “confusing process,” and the decision to take students out of the West Side came without warning.

“We need to be involved in decisions, especially when we’re talking about closing whole programs,” he said.

LIST OF DEMANDS

Franco presented a list of demands, which include investments in West Side schools, real community engagement and no program changes until there’s a long-term plan to minimize disruption.

Gothard said the administration can’t reverse the board’s vote, and the district already is planning for next year. Besides the West Side program changes, five schools across the city are closing.

But Gothard said a potential preschool expansion — funded either at the city, state or federal level — would address some of the child care barriers keeping some families from enrolling on the West Side.

Some parents said their schools need before- and after-school care run by the district, but Chief Operations Officer Jackie Turner said there hasn’t been nearly enough parent interest to cover the costs of running Discovery Club. She said it’s possible the Boys and Girls Club will start taking 4-year-olds, and she promised to work with private child care providers to find options for families.

Turner also said the district has added another preschool class at Riverview this fall to help the school grow its enrollment. She said they could do the same for Cherokee Heights if there’s enough interest.

MOVES AREN’T ‘FOR US’

One parent said she settled on the West Side in part because the Montessori method worked well for her children. She said she doesn’t understand why the program is leaving next year.

Turner said Montessori programs cost about twice as much as general education, and the program at Cherokee Heights hasn’t attracted enough students.

“With the amount of money that it takes to run a Montessori program, we cannot have an enrollment that is not sustainable,” she said.

Turner estimated that half of Cherokee Heights families want to preserve Montessori, while the rest are happy to see it go.

Franco said it’s nothing new for the district to mistreat the West Side. The community had to rally to save Humboldt High School some 50 years ago, he said, and the surprise 2012 announcement that Roosevelt would reopen as Riverview came “without community dialogue.”

He offered a slogan he said encapsulates what West Siders have been feeling since the board vote: “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.”

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Washington University participating in Moderna’s omicron-specific booster trial

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Washington University participating in Moderna’s omicron-specific booster trial

ST. LOUIS — Moderna has started its mid-stage study on its new booster that specifically targets the omicron variant, and St. Louis is part of that study.

The Washington University School of Medicine is participating in the Phase 2 clinical trial of the new booster. The trial started Wednesday and is enrolling 20 to 30 people who are 18 and older.

Those people must have already received two to three doses of the Moderna vaccine. Each participant will receive the new omicron booster and see if it gives them a stronger immune response.

Dr. Rachael Presti is Washington University’s infectious disease physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She’s also leading the trial. She said people should participate to be part of medical innovation.

“The idea behind this is if you can get a booster that broadens the immune response so that it covers omicron better. And hopefully, even if omicron goes away future variants of the virus are going to be building mutations on the current omicron variant, not on the original variant.”

Washington University will follow participants for a year, but Moderna is hoping to have enough information that the variant booster might be available in around three months.

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‘Ben would be so proud’: Mom of fallen St. Louis firefighter thankful for tributes

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‘Ben would be so proud’: Mom of fallen St. Louis firefighter thankful for tributes

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis community is making sure a firefighter who was killed two weeks ago is not forgotten. A series of tributes are in the works to honor Benjamin Polson.

Polson, 33, was killed while battling a vacant house fire in north St. Louis on Jan. 13.

The St. Louis Hero Network, a local organization, is working with Missouri State Rep. David Gregory to establish a memorial sign.

The sign would be similar to the one honoring fallen North County Police Cooperative Officer Michael Langsdorf. That sign is on display on I-55 at Butler Hill Road.

“I just know that Ben would be so proud. He was such a proud person, and he wanted to do such a good job at being a fireman,” Susan Polson, Benjamin Polson’s mother, said.

If lawmakers give the green light to the sign, the Polson family would weigh in on the location. The honor is a bright spot during what has been a painful past two weeks for the Polson family. Susan, her son, and daughter Rebecca were extremely close.

“We were best friends. My daughter says she’s his best friend…I say I’m his best friend,” she said.

The three even lived close to each other, just minutes apart. Rebecca, her fiancé, Susan, and Ben saw each other on a regular basis, planned outings, and vacations.

Susan Polson flipped through pictures of her son, from his early days as a hockey player to more recent times, when he lived in Colorado.

Polson returned to St. Louis to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a St. Louis firefighter. Susan Polson said her son was passionate about his job, and helping others.

“He really cared – he really did care about our city – he wanted to leave the world a better place,” she said.

The St. Louis Hero Network has raised more than $500,000 for first responders and veterans in the last three years.

Its founder and director, Charlie Metzner, is not only a firefighter – he happens to be Polson’s cousin.

“It wasn’t just my family. It was a brother in the fire service that worked in the same fire department that I worked for. And how extremely proud I was that he chose a life of service,” Metzner said. “Just like his funeral -he could have done anything he wanted to do. But he chose a life of service.” Just like his dad. To serve and protect the community he grew up in. He was a south city kid just like me.”

Thanks to a donation, T-shirts bearing Polson’s name and Engine House 13 – where he was stationed – will be provided to all members of the St. Louis Fire Department and the Polson family.

Metzner is also eager about the prospect of a plaque in each firehouse, and later a memorial dedicated to Polson. Susan Polson said she is honored by all the tributes, and expressed thanks to those who have stepped up to support the family.

“Thank you so much. Everything you’ve done for my son. And our family – and for all the future firefighters. And all the young men and women that give their service, to help other people,” she said.

For more information on the St. Louis Hero Network, including how to make a donation, visit https://stlheronetwork.co

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