A morning downpour forced a back-to-school event indoors at St. Paul Central High School on Tuesday, but inside the gym, the band’s drums had an added boom that seemed appropriate for a 150th-year celebration.

In school districts across the state, Tuesday was a day for umbrellas and fresh starts as hundreds of thousands of kids returned to school — and not just old schools, but new ones, rescued ones and some without power, too.

At Central, the state’s oldest high school, this year’s seniors packed the bleachers to mark the school’s 150th year and to share hopes of putting a difficult 2015-16 school year behind them. They listened as Mayor Chris Coleman, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and City Council Member Chris Tolbert, a 2001 graduate, spoke of the school’s rich diversity and a history of churning out judges, artists and Rhodes scholars.

With a final rousing take of the “Onward Central” fight song — complete with cheerleader kicks — the seniors returned to class while parents and dignitaries convened outdoors to celebrate a new outdoor plaza and stormwater filtration project. The landscaping and other improvements bring natural appeal to what even the most devoted Central backers acknowledge is a “prisonlike” exterior to the building.

Alexis Cheng, a senior and student council member, said the work also represents a refreshing new chapter for a school that weathered an often gloomy year that included three students’ deaths and a lunchroom attack that left a veteran teacher with a concussion. “This year, the new look of Central will make for better and lasting events,” Cheng said.

The Transforming Central campaign has been led primarily by parents and has attracted more than $700,000 in grants and other contributions. Other events celebrating Central’s 150th year are in the works.

Weather woes

The rainstorm brought temporary power failures to schools across the metro area.

Anoka Middle School for the Arts on the Fred Moore Campus experienced an outage but the power came back after 45 minutes. Trees knocked down a power line that took out the power at Christina Huddleston Elementary School in Lakeville. Power was restored shortly before school started at 8:30 a.m. Phone and Internet service remained out until 9:33 a.m. as a result.

“It was not an ideal way to start the school year,” Amy Olson, Lakeville School District spokeswoman, said. “But our staff were rolling with the punches.”

New look for Burnsville High

The weather did not put a damper on a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly improved Burnsville High School. The 2,700 students arriving Tuesday might not have recognized the 60-year-old school with its additions.

The school unveiled flexible learning spaces, an athletics center and a technology center that includes a fabrication lab. The traditional classroom has been redesigned to allow for more collaborative learning spaces, where teachers and students use desks on wheels and technology is embedded in the classroom. The new activities and athletics’ center features three new gyms, a dance studio, running track and a weight room.

Along with physical changes, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District realigned its grade levels, moving ninth-grade students to the high school and its sixth-grade students to the middle school. The district is offering a special course to help ninth-graders at the new school. They’ll have the chance to learn research skills and financial literacy.

“When ninth-graders are in junior high, they don’t really realize they are in high school,” said spokeswoman Ruth Dunn, “even though their grades count toward graduation.”

Seniors will no longer spend half a day away at the senior campus. Dunn said the shift is part of an increase in emphasis on college and career readiness.

Galtier rebound

Two months after assuming the role of interim superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools, John Thein made the rounds at four schools on Tuesday, and he still was bounding down hallways during his final stop at Galtier Community School.

“Isn’t this just a beautiful building?” he said to John Brodrick and Zuki Ellis, two school board members along for the visit. Neither replied.

“You’re supposed to agree,” he kidded the pair.

No reason to worry. Brodrick and Ellis were part of a board majority that voted in late June to save Galtier from possible closure in June 2017.

Galtier has suffered enrollment losses despite a major renovation two years ago. But the board decided to put its faith in a “Save Galtier” campaign led in part by parent Clayton Howatt, who has been trying to attract new families.

The work may be paying off. Earlier this year, the district projected 144 students in 2016-17. On Tuesday, Principal Shawn Stibbins said the K-5 school could reach about 180 students by the time the Oct. 1 enrollment count is tallied.

Thein, in the meantime, tried to stoke enthusiasm in a group of kids attending a music class. “First day of school. Isn’t it great?” he said.

A few soft “yeses” could be heard.

“Come on,” he replied.


anthony.lonetree@startribune.com 612-673-4109 beatrice.dupuy@startribune.com