St. Paul Public Schools officials this week presented an ambitious set of proposals to refocus, reinvigorate or just plain reinforce 11 of the city's schools.
The ideas range from launching separate academies for boys and girls at North End Elementary to expanding the district's hugely popular Linwood A-Plus Elementary into a K-8 program by adding a second campus at the under-used Monroe Community School. And proposals included starting the district's first Hmong language and culture magnet school at Phalen Lake to attract new students.
St. Paul Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen this week led a series of public meetings to gauge parent, staff and community interest in the proposals, with the idea of offering new or expanded choices to families in time for the 2008-09 school year. The proposals are meant to boost student achievement, stem declining enrollment and pull new families into the St. Paul schools.
"It's not just about improving low-performing schools," Carstarphen said Wednesday. "It's really about creating a whole school system that works and doing what our clients want."
Some of the schools on the list, such as Cleveland Junior High School, Monroe and Homecroft Elementary, are on the fast-track to change because of poor test scores and dwindling student numbers. Some of the schools on the list -- such as Farnsworth Aerospace Elementary and Linwood -- are bursting at the seams with kids and have parents who love the programs and want the same options for middle school.
And mixed up with all this is St. Paul's desire to pull back the 5,000 or so city children who choose to attend charter schools.
Many details are still to be worked out, officials said, though a self-imposed deadline is approaching.
School officials want to decide the framework of the new programs by Dec. 21 in order to get the details into the district's school choice catalog that goes to St. Paul families. Officials plan to gather community feedback over the next few weeks.
"It just shouldn't be that hard for families to feel like they have choices at the secondary level," Carstarphen said. "And it shouldn't be that hard for us to be competitive."
One of the most radical proposals is to take North End Elementary, which has solid test scores and an effective staff but continues to bleed enrollment, and transform it into a school where boys and girls are educated in separate academies.
The Rice Street area school, with just 320 children in a building that could hold 900, has been unable to attract many of the families in its neighborhood despite its solid academic showing.
In addition, the district has applied for a $250,000 grant from the Robins, Miller, Kaplan and Ciresi Foundation to create a program to raise the achievement of black boys. The initiative will pilot ways to make the curriculum more inclusive for black families and to eliminate the achievement gap between black boys and white students. What officials learn at North End they would apply to other students groups throughout the district, Carstarphen said.
North End Principal Hamilton Bell said at a meeting Tuesday night that he is excited about the possibilities. While about 70 percent of neighborhood residents are black, only about 35 percent of the school's enrollment is made up of black students. A focus on African and African-American culture and history could attract more families to the school.
First, Bell acknowledged, he needs to wear out some shoes selling his school to the area.
"I've had people tell me in other areas and times of my life that I can't be successful in life," he said. "I'll be darned if we won't be successful here."
Officials met Monday and Tuesday with parents and staff from Monroe Community School, a K-8 school on the west end that needs an enrollment and academic boost, and Linwood A-Plus Elementary, an arts-focused school where parents covet spots for their kids.
The idea, greeted with a warm reception by teachers and seemingly increased interest by parents, is to turn the nearly neighboring schools into a dual campus K-8 arts program in the Linwood mold -- with kindergarten through third grade housed at Linwood and fourth through eighth grade at Monroe.
Linwood Principal Steve Unowsky said he is excited at the prospect of making the arts program available to more families. He knows some parents of older Linwood students are thinking of leaving the St. Paul schools "because they're not comfortable with what's out there" for their children after Linwood.
Thomas Schroeder, a Linwood parent, echoed many Linwood parents' concerns that a combined program is intriguing, but must adhere to the same culture and same philosophies that have made Linwood successful.
"And that's taken a decade to form here," he cautioned.
James Walsh • 651-298-1541