Fate of Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury may lie with Perpich Center

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2013 - 9:32 PM

If the Perpich Center takes over the east metro's Crosswinds School, it will require an infusion of cash from the Legislature.

The fate of an arts and science magnet school created to promote integration in St. Paul and surrounding suburbs is headed for a crucial vote Wednesday night.

The East Metro Integration District (EMID) is aiming to give up control of Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury, and the school's only apparent hope for survival is a proposal by the Perpich Center for Arts Education to take it over.

Acceptance of the plan could be a risky move for the EMID school board because the Perpich Center would need legislative approval and as much as $3 million in state funding to manage the grades six-10 school -- action that must come this legislative session.

But Debra Kelley, a center spokeswoman, said officials were prepared to "hit the floor running" to save a program that she said was, like the Perpich Center, committed to seeing students of diverse backgrounds transformed through the arts and global and cultural awareness.

Crosswinds parents and students favor the Perpich Center plan over a competing proposal from South Washington County schools, one of 10 districts now part of the EMID collaborative. South Washington County, still growing and with a bottleneck coming at the middle-school level, has no plans to maintain Crosswinds, whose building is within South Washington's district boundaries. "Probably our needs are best served if the program ended," Superintendent Keith Jacobus told area legislators recently.

EMID's other integration school, Harambee Elementary in Maplewood, is expected to be turned over to the Roseville Area Schools, which has pledged to continue its focus on multicultural education and environmental sciences.

During a hearing at Crosswinds on Jan. 9, parents and students gave impassioned pleas in favor of the Perpich Center takeover, with not one of the 36 speakers -- teachers included -- advocating for South Washington County or for a third proposal from Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916.

Jill Markovich said her son, Casey, a hearing-impaired seventh-grader, achieved a "sense of belonging" as part of the school's theater program. She said Casey had a speaking part in the play, "Trials: The Life of Joan of Arc," and as part of that team effort, had learned about self-discipline, personal responsibility and commitment to a cause.

"You can't test for this type of learning, but it is just as important as anything else," Markovich said. "I actually cry at the thought of Casey losing this opportunity."

Funding changes

Parents mobilized by the hundreds in September 2011 to block closings proposed for Harambee and Crosswinds this school year.

EMID has been moving to shed the two schools as its member districts have pulled back funding amid demographic changes. The integration schools were born in 1997 as part of the state's overhaul of its desegregation program. But as schools within the member districts have grown more diverse, administrators have shifted attention and resources to local efforts to narrow the achievement gap between white and minority students.

This year, the districts kept $1.6 million in integration revenue that previously had gone to the two magnet schools. Similarly, EMID has been unable to persuade the member districts to turn over voter-approved revenue generated in Harambee and Crosswinds students' home districts, EMID business manager Shari Thompson said.

Crosswinds has seen enrollment tumble from a peak of about 545 students in 2006-07 to about 350 students this year. Its population is almost evenly divided between white and minority students. The percentage of students deemed proficient in math, reading and science lagged behind state averages in 2012.

Eric Celeste, with a son attending Crosswinds, said the threatened closings and then the instability of the current year have taken their toll. He welcomed EMID's move to relinquish governance of the buildings, and is backing the Perpich Center proposal.

"We have been scaring families away from [Crosswinds] for many, many years," he said.

On Friday, when asked how Wednesday's vote might go, EMID Superintendent Janet Mohr said: "Your guess is as good as mine."

One scenario may find the EMID board backing Perpich Center and making South Washington County a fallback if the Perpich Center doesn't win legislative support.

Wearing multiple hats in the situation is Jim Gelbmann, a South Washington County board member who also is an appointee to the EMID board.

The Perpich Center proposal has gained strength, he said, primarily as result of the hearing earlier this month. But he and a couple of EMID colleagues are concerned, he said, about the center's ability to raise $2.5 million to $3 million as state leaders grapple with a $1.1 billion deficit.

Crosswinds, he said this month, is an expensive program, but an effective one for some students.

It's likely, he said, that those students would not have succeeded if not for Crosswinds.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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