In recent years, the St. Paul School District has held its own on the enrollment front, posting tiny gains amid strong charter school competition.
But the district hoped for more when it launched its Strong Schools, Strong Communities strategic plan four years ago this month — thousands of new students, in fact — and people at district headquarters can get a little sensitive when the subject comes up.
Last week, in its coverage of a Jan. 13 board meeting, the Star Tribune noted that the district had set out in 2011 to attract 3,000 new students.
But there were visions of a 5,000-student increase at one time, too.
Board Member John Brodrick recalled the larger number, yet when he brought it up on Jan. 13, he was greeted with a curt response from Michelle Walker, the district’s chief executive officer, suggesting such a goal never existed.
When informed later that night that the figure appeared in a local newspaper, Walker pledged to work with staff to get at its origins.
There was no mystery, really. The source was Superintendent Valeria Silva. She had mentioned the 5,000-student goal at the Strong Schools launch on Jan. 11, 2011, and both the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press reported her comments.
Silva was silent, for the most part, when the issue came up on Jan. 13 and again this week when Brodrick, a retired teacher, reviewed the “mini tempest” at a meeting Tuesday and then identified the superintendent as the source of the rosier number. He also said he felt embarrassed when his memory was challenged the previous week.
He offered some advice, too.
“We all want to raise enrollment. Let’s make that our goal,” Brodrick said. “Let’s just be more open about what happened in the past.”
The district foresees slow, steady growth over the next 10 years. But Hazel Reinhardt, a former state demographer hired by the district to help with its enrollment projections, said it shouldn’t set any new goals. Too complex an environment, she said.
No one’s begged to differ.