St. Paul School Board votes to close, merge schools

MGN

Painful cuts forced by ‘current enrollment reality’

The St. Paul School Board voted 5-2 on Dec. 1 to approve a revised version of Envision SPPS, a series of school closures and mergers intended to address declining enrollment and to provide a “well-rounded education” district-wide.

The move will close five schools at the end of the 2021-22 school year and one the next year. Envision SPPS impacts 2,165 students, 6% of the district’s enrollment, with a higher rate of Black students being impacted than the district average.

Many parents in attendance for the vote declined to comment to the MSR, citing overwhelming feelings of exhaustion and disappointment. The decision follows weeks of emotional testimony by St. Paul families and educators that packed public hearings in opposition to the proposal.

“I know that no matter what the data say, closing a school is traumatic for students, families and staff,” wrote St. Paul Superintendent Joe Gothard in a release. “Closing schools is the last thing that I, members of my leadership team, or board members want to do. But when our current enrollment reality is negatively impacting our ability to provide every student with the education and services they need and deserve, something has to change.”

At the meeting, board members expressed how difficult the decision was to make. Board Member Jim Vue sought and failed to pass a motion delaying closures another year.

“It doesn’t end here. You have been heard,” said Board Member Janelle Foster, speaking to families about the many concerns expressed during weeks of public comment.

In response to community outcry, board members on Monday announced a revised version of Envision SPPS that removed three schools originally slated for closure: Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School, Highwood Hills Elementary School, and LEAP High School.

They cited the Highwood Hills neighborhood’s geographic isolation, Wellstone’s sustainable student enrollment size, and LEAP’s unique program.

Community members lauded the changes at a Nov. 30 public hearing, yet warned the school board about its priorities.

Jim Hilbert, chair of the education committee of the St. Paul NAACP, said, “The district is facing significant challenges that are greater than a well-rounded education.” He stressed that SPPS risks exacerbating racial segregation in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit.

Parts of the proposal that remain, according to the Board, include:

  • Cherokee Heights Montessori program relocates and merges at J.J. Hill Montessori and Cherokee Heights reopens as a community school.
  • J.J. Hill Montessori relocates to the Obama site once remodeling is complete either fall 2024 or fall 2025 

● Galtier Elementary School closes and merges at Hamline.

● John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary closes and merges at Bruce Vento.

● Jackson Preparatory Elementary School community program closes and merges at Maxfield.

● Jackson Preparatory Elementary School Hmong Language merges at Phalen Lake.

● L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion (LNFI) lower closes and merges at the LNFI upper campus

● Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School closes and reopens as the Hmong Language Immersion and Culture Program upper campus

● Riverview West Side School of Excellence community program closes and merges at Cherokee.”

The district anticipates repurposing closed sites for early childhood programs, community partnerships, and temporary space during construction.

Schools officials say while they anticipate more parent engagement and studies conducted concerning implementation, students from closed and merged schools will have priority placement for a school of their choosing.