School-choice lottery season ended in St. Paul recently with hundreds of families still on the outside looking in at a familiar list of high-demand schools.
At Washington Technology Magnet School, a grades 6-12 building on the North End, the waiting list stood at 262 students.
Eighty-nine kids await openings at St. Anthony Park Elementary, while at two Montessori elementary schools, Nokomis on the East Side and J.J. Hill in the Summit-University area, the lists stood at 111 and 107, respectively.
St. Paul has had trouble, however, persuading families who’ve been shut out to take other options. As it faces the possibility of losing students to charter schools and nearby districts, a call has been issued to take a deeper look at the community and magnet school options under the Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan.
What that review looks like and what kind of change could result is still to come. But Steve Marchese, a first-year school board member leading the push, said last week he believed Strong Schools, Strong Communities was supposed to leave families confident they could find what they need for their children everywhere in the district.
“I think we’re a long way from that,” he said.
With her Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan, Superintendent Valeria Silva reduced the number of citywide magnets and emphasized neighborhood schools as the “heart of the community.” In 2013-14, the city was divided into geographic zones, with community schools and magnets in each area. Two-year junior highs became three-year middle schools.
Marchese’s proposal was inspired, in part, by developments in Area E in the city’s northwest corner. There, St. Anthony Park Elementary is flourishing. Yet three miles away, Galtier Community School is losing students and is at risk of closing at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
District maps suggest more families living in the 17-block area near Galtier send their children to St. Anthony Park than they do to their neighborhood school. Busing from the Galtier area to St. Anthony Park is possible under the Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan.
Board Member Jean O’Connell said the district not only has issues to resolve with Galtier, but also with “the entire Como community not going to Como [Park] Elementary School. We should have a conversation with our community about that.”
The West Side, too, has seen families go elsewhere.
Marchese said he plans to work with district administrators on development of a “regional area-wide planning process” that could be presented to the board for discussion in June.
Colleagues John Brodrick and Zuki Ellis agreed that conversations should be had in various communities to get answers to questions such as: What do the parents want? What does the community want? How can we support one another toward that goal?
Board Member Mary Vanderwert said that working through such issues “could be a way of building community.”
Silva did not offer any objections to a review of Strong Schools, Strong Communities offerings. She reiterated the desire to see families walk into any school in the district and say: “This is my place,” she said.