St. Paul to move pioneering school from downtown to West Side

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2013 - 8:35 PM

Magnet program will go from downtown to West Side

Open World Learning Community (OWL), a St. Paul school that began in 1971 as the district’s first magnet program and now is touted by parents as one of its best alternatives to small, creative charter schools, is poised to move — again.

But this time, officials say, it’s going to be permanent.

Work is underway to relocate the sixth- to 12th-grade program — now part of a two-school site at 65 E. Kellogg Blvd. downtown — across the Mississippi River to the former home of Humboldt Middle School on the city’s West Side.

Steve Unowsky, the district’s assistant superintendent of middle schools, said Tuesday that the Kellogg Boulevard site was too tight to accommodate both the OWL program and Creative Arts High School, which also serves sixth to 12th grades and is centered on the literary, visual and performing arts.

The recommendation to move the school was announced last month by Superintendent Valeria Silva in a letter to the school community, and was greeted with disappointment by parents and community leaders due to a lack of public input at the time. Since then, however, more than 110 parents and guardians have signed on to a letter expressing optimism about the changes ahead — provided assurances can be made on the busing, staffing and budgetary fronts.

Three years ago, OWL moved to the downtown facility — known for having hosted President George H.W. Bush in 1991 when it was the Saturn School of Tomorrow — after a forced restructuring that included a new focus on expeditionary learning. Now it is home to Minnesota’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, Megan Olivia Hall, and can be seen as a genuine No Child Left Behind success story, Unowsky said.

OWL, with its emphasis on hands-on learning, sees students take expeditions to the river or visit the Science Museum of Minnesota, and as such, Unowsky said, the district will work with school staff and community members to ensure those partnerships remain vital.

Humboldt also is being redesigned and renovated at a cost of about $3 million, he said, with new features to include an expanded science lab for the school’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learners and an improved theater for OWL’s theater program.

In their letter to Silva and Unowsky, OWL parents asked that the program continue as a citywide magnet with citywide busing, that its assistant principal be allowed to stay and that it ensure students still have access to learning resources downtown.

The district envisions the school growing from the current 300 students to as many as 400 students, Unowsky said. But work on that final number, as well as many of the concerns outlined in the letter, will continue, he said, in partnership with school staff and parents.

On Oct. 29, the district is co-hosting a community meeting on the move with West Siders for Strong Schools, a newly formed community group. The meeting runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Humboldt Secondary School.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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