St. Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen didn't pull many punches in a State of the District address to community leaders.
After old radio clips from seminal events such as the integration of Little Rock Central High School and the first moon landing crackled over a public address system, St. Paul Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen launched into an address that was equal parts progress report and sermon.
"If any school district in the country is going to overcome the challenges of urban public education, it will be here in this district," she said to a round of applause Friday.
St. Paul schools are meeting 28 percent of the district's benchmarks in a five-year plan to close the achievement gap between minority students and white students, she said in her first State of the School District address.
The results don't even reflect a full year under the plan, which was implemented last spring, but they show the district has some work to do.
St. Paul students met 40 of the 145 goals -- which measured different groups on things such as standardized tests, Advanced Placement test participation and honors course completion.
And 43 schools did not make adequate yearly progress in 2006-07 according to No Child Left Behind, up from 18 the previous year.
But as Carstarphen put it, there are "pockets of success."
Asian students, for example, met or exceeded standards on tests and other goals 48 percent of the time. Between 2006 and 2007, Asian students showed progress in 19 percent of the standards.
Black students made progress from 2006 to 2007 in honors course completion and ACT participation.
"We won't stop until every achievement gap is closed and every child feels challenged," she said.
Change brings great solutions
From the introduction, she used historical events to drive home the weight of St. Paul schools' task. Nine black students walked into a Little Rock, Ark., school and set the course for integration of schools across the United States.
The event triggered the kind of change Carstarphen hopes to bring to inner-city schools.
"History has shown that times of great challenge and transition can bring great solutions and accomplishments," she said.
Borrowing at times from John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela, Carstarphen issued what Ramsey County Commissioner Jan Parker termed "a call for help."
Speaking at a breakfast gathering, Carstarphen implored the invitation-only crowd of about 100 -- including community leaders, businesspeople and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman -- to supplement plans such as early intervention programs for young offenders and extended time in the classroom.
The superintendent also asked them to lobby state legislators to create a school funding system that takes the pressure off local levies.
With adequate funding, St. Paul can conquer the challenges in educating urban schoolchildren, she said.