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Strong Schools Strong Communities: Addressing St. Paul’s achievement gap

We face a crisis in education today. Much of the dialogue surrounding it has centered on the national achievement gap.

Melvin Carter III
Melvin Carter III

We face a crisis in education today. Much of the dialogue surrounding it has centered on the national achievement gap. Despite Minnesota’s hard-earned reputation as one of the top education states, we are not exempt from the crisis here — Saint Paul has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation. Simply put, our current system is not meeting the needs of today’s students.

However clichéd the phrase, our children really are our future. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, tomorrow’s taxpayers, and tomorrow’s parents, which means solving this problem is critical — not just to individual kids and families, but to the future of our entire city.

Under Mayor Chris Coleman‘s leadership, the City of St. Paul has worked with the schools and community partners to leverage local resources, maximize out-of-school-time learning, and re-establish our schools as the center of the neighborhoods they serve. While ensuring every child participates in high-quality afters-school programs is a huge step forward, our shared goal to significantly improve student achievement will require a new structure within the schools.

This became crystal clear as my wife, Alecia, and I started researching schools for our 5- year-old daughter. This very personal journey, shared by parents across the city, quickly evolved into a personal mission to form strong partnerships around the schools to ensure that every child succeeds. Building on years of collaborative efforts, our nationally recognized Promise Neighborhood effort is rooted in the belief that all children can learn. We adults just have to get our act — our systems and our politics — together.

The Strong Schools Strong Community strategic plan focuses clearly on meeting students’ needs, creating uniform, high standards throughout the district, and keeping learning close to home and family. It is informed by best practices nationwide, a thorough analysis of data on our students and schools, and a full month of community engagement and feedback. I want to thank those who have stepped up to voice their input, and commend Superintendent Silva for recognizing the value of those voices and using them to improve the plan.

Now, it’s time to act! Our school board needs to pass this plan on March 15 and recommit to fulfilling the promise and mission of the St. Paul Public Schools: “A Premier Education for All.” Our kids cannot afford to wait.

Melvin Carter III is a St. Paul City Council member, Ward 1.