Diversity in St. Paul school choice mix

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2012 - 10:25 PM

In St. Paul, 20 percent of seats would be saved for students in need.

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St. Paul schools superintendent Valeria Silva

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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St. Paul administrators and school board members indicated Tuesday that they will work to ensure student diversity in high-demand schools by reserving spots for applicants from neighborhoods with low income, poor English language skills and low test scores.

The unique school choice program was presented to administrators in December by an "integration/choice" committee made up of community members, board members and administrators.

The panel recommended that 20 percent of seats at the most sought-after elementary and middle schools be reserved for students from high-poverty neighborhoods. It also urged that the district use a point system that will give priority to students from neighborhoods with a high population of English language learners, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and score below grade level in reading and math.

Although they need to examine if they have enough technological support to implement the new choice program, administrators at Tuesday's meeting said the recommendation aligns with the goals of the district's "Strong Schools, Strong Communities" strategic plan.

"The broader intent of the plan was to have racial and economic diversity in our schools while having the schools placed in the heart of the community," said Michelle Walker, the district's chief accountability officer.

The plan transfers several of the district's magnet schools into neighborhood schools to both close the achievement gap and save the district money.

Superintendent Valeria Silva and the board also said they will put in place more than 100 recommendations made by eight similar committees last month.

Those recommendations included placing advertising in schools to raise money for the district, using social media to engage parents and community members and better engage with minority community members.

Silva said the district could not enter into a multiyear budget system or set up its own health insurance program, as recommended by the budget/finance committee.

The plan will be implemented in the fall of 2013. In a separate motion, the board decided to keep L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion School as a kindergarten through fifth-grade school. Administrators previously said they would consider expanding the school to also serve seventh- and eighth-grade students.

To view the entire list of committee recommendations, visit www.startribune.com/a1000.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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