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

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by David Ziegler on 03/08/2011 - 09:49 am.

    My understanding is that this plan was not sound on data and research. Simple things like enrollments numbers to student needs.

    In the last month or so this so called well research analytical plan has had over ten major changes from closing campuses, merging campuses, splitting campuses, to realigning neighborhoods. This plan is anything but solid.

    Yes, stick your neck out for this one. It appears that it will lead to poor people going to poor schools. No, the district has been a miserable failure on education children of color, however, shifting the kids around and forcing them into subpar schools will not solve that.

    So, how much is this going to cost? Touting public meetings but leaving out that the costs have been kept very private. So, glad my kids are not part of that system. So very glad.

  2. Submitted by rolf westgard on 03/09/2011 - 04:11 am.

    Councilman Carter is right on when he says, “Simply put, our current system is not meeting the needs of today’s students.”
    Unfortunately, most of those needs are beyond the resources of any school program as schools are currently structured and funded. Struggling student needs relate to the home environment of so many low income students. English is poorly spoken, few home computers, parental indifference and absence, nutrition deficiency, etc. The problem relates as much to income as it does to race, although they are obviously linked. To deal with those issues will take more than a school system, but Superintendent Silva is giving it a good try. I am skeptical of her notion that St Paul is an integrated community. I haven’t seen many minority families in our HIghland Park/Macalester Groveland neighborhood.

  3. Submitted by Salome Burn on 03/11/2011 - 01:42 am.

    A Full Month of Community Engagement? We need a lot longer than that to get past the powerpoints to see the impact. Promise Neighborhood is a great idea. But in Silva’s plan, will every single neighborhood in poverty become a Promise Neighborhood with all the Fed $ like yours?

    I don’t think so.

    Meanwhile poor families who used to be able to choose better schools are getting zoned into fewer choices. And families who thought they could go anywhere in the district helped integrate SOME neighborhoods.

    Silva says, “trust me, the schools will all be good.”

    I think more people will run for the suburbs and we’ll get left with the tough schools.


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