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The Twin Cities German Immersion School: A valuable asset for our community, our educational system, and for the global stage

photo of article author
Mark Ritchie
The recent piece in Community Voices – “Putting the ‘public’ back into ‘public charter schools’ ” by David Greenwood-Sanchez — and the ongoing debate about plans by the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) to renovate its campus by replacing a former church that doesn’t meet its needs skipped over a few key points.

Since its inception in 2005-2006, TCGIS has become not only one of the best public charter schools in our state but also — with 580 students — the largest German-speaking school in North America. It’s a real asset in the overall public education system by meeting the demand for German language instruction. Perhaps of equal importance is the contribution made by the school to the international reputation for global-mindedness of Minnesota.

TCGIS succeeds daily in its efforts to hear others, see others, think and act in a “world open” manner. With roughly 30 student teachers from Europe, a whole grade level of German ninth-graders and numerous teachers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, TCGIS brings important parts of the world to the neighborhood and to all of us. My organization, Global Minnesota, has collaborated with the school for years, bringing graduate students and other expert instructors from all over the world to share perspectives and stories with TCGIS students. Like immersion students everywhere, these students know the world is full of many different perspectives and life experiences.

TCGIS also sends passionate, energetic Minnesotans out into the world. For all of the above-mentioned visitors, over the years TCGIS has sent nearly every graduating eighth- grader to Germany as part of its “Capstone” class exchange. The school’s commitment to inclusion means no one missed out because of financial considerations. Every year TCGIS adds significantly to the number of people around the planet who have come to know Minnesota up close and personal. At a time of so much negative media, these direct connections are even more important.

Global Minnesota is only one of many partners that benefit from working with the school. TCGIS’ partnership with the St. Paul Public Schools, for example, is a very successful collaboration with the establishment of a high-level German program at the local SPPS high school. Graduates of TCGIS can enroll at St. Paul Central, gaining access to the broad offerings of a larger, comprehensive high school without giving up their German. St. Paul Public Schools benefits from more great kids and the funding they bring with them. Such synergy and collaboration is exactly the kind of innovative, forward-looking work our state is famous for – where everyone wins.

It’s not surprising then that TCGIS has had visits from German diplomats from the German Consulate in Chicago and the Embassy in Washington, D.C. For hundreds of educators from the German speaking countries, this school is putting St. Paul, the Twin Cities and Minnesota on the map! As someone who works each and every day to connect Minnesotans to the world and the world to Minnesota, I believe TCGIS plays a crucial role in our success. It is part of our rich tradition of honoring our past while preparing our students to create a more prosperous future for all. Such a school deserves our full support.

Mark Ritchie is the former Minnesota secretary of state and serves as president of Global Minnesota, a 67-year-old nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance international understanding and engagement.


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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Jeffery Thole on 03/12/2019 - 11:57 am.

    The ” 30 student teachers from Europe” mentioned in the article above are unlicensed, nonunion, foreign exchange students. If the children can get a quality education that way, I am ok with that. But school can of course be taught any where. There is no need to tare down an historic building to teach German Immersion in the Twin Cities Metro area..

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/12/2019 - 12:45 pm.

      Except that they own the building, bought it without restrictions, and the building needs millions to repair and is a poor fit for the school even if fixed.

      Regardless of what the German school does, I would like to see the church torn down to honor the children who were victims of unspeakable crimes that occurred there at the hands of priests. This building was a house of horrors to those victims.

      • Submitted by Roy Neal on 03/12/2019 - 08:43 pm.

        Ummm…this is not the first acidic comment from a TCGIS supporter and won’t be the last. Some of the more active on social media have no filter and make false claims and odd comparisons that would make our current president proud. For example, someone sent a letter to a city official recently wanting the church torn down because they thought the bell tower was phallic. The building didn’t commit any wrongful acts. It can’t. It’s a building. The historic building and the school can co-exist, like so many other schools and tenets did in that building for the last 92 years. That’s what the neighbors thought was going to happen until TCGIS announced their plans to destroy a landmark building and the neighbors started howling. TCGIS’ plan is wanton unsustainable destruction of a historical asset. No sense of historical stewardship for future generations. None. TCGIS should do better.

        • Submitted by Rich Iwen on 03/13/2019 - 09:35 am.

          SHSA’s HPC nomination rested in part on the fact that there was an active Hungarian community in the building in the 1940s. The actions of people in the building mattered in that case. The actions of an abusive person should matter as well. I’m not sure that you can pick only the good actions from 70 years ago, and ignore the criminal actions from 40 years ago when contemplating the history of the building.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/13/2019 - 10:54 am.

          Well, no.

          The building is a poor fit for the school’s needs and needs millions of dollars in maintenance, due to lack of upkeep that began years before TCGiS purchased it. But one of the reasons TCGIS wants to replace the building is this:

          “The niches and choir loft provide ample opportunity for an ill-intentioned adult to be alone with a student.”

          So the building itself may not be evil, but was designed (whether intentionally or not) to allow evil to occur. Its a terrible setup for children, and no school designed today would have anything like it.

          When you say the church and school co-existed for 92 years, you gloss over the fact that (per the church’s own admissions) part of that “co-existence” included the sexual abuse of childen.

          The church gave up St. Andrews because it was run-down, underused and they needed to fund settlement payments to the children who were sexually abused by priests. That’s when it was over for St. Andrews. TCGIS wants to turn this into something good for children and I welcome that.

        • Submitted by Lisa Linnell on 03/15/2019 - 08:28 am.

          “Acidic comment”? What Roy Neal fails to mention is that the Save Historic St Andrew’s Facebook page, a site he helps moderate, made a post (since deleted) promising that they will harass TCGIS children and parents if they don’t get their way with respect to the school’s building project. It read, in part, “If this project goes through, your kids will be looking at ‘Stop the Demolition’ signs for the next decade. Neighbors will report every traffic violation, every illegally parked car, and blast the school at every chance on social media. Is that what you want?” Is this part of that promised “blast”? Does that sound like an organization dedicated to compromise and goodwill? It sounds fairly “acidic” to me.

    • Submitted by Lisa Linnell on 03/12/2019 - 02:50 pm.

      Please explain how you came to the conclusion that student teachers from Germany are not an appropriate addition to the licensed teachers at TCGIS. Do you also object to student teachers assisting licensed teachers in other schools? That makes no sense.

    • Submitted by Anthony Radecki on 03/12/2019 - 03:11 pm.

      Local student teachers are also unlicensed and non-union. These foreign exchange student teachers are not left alone in charge of a class room, as your comment seems to suggest. They shadow and learn from the licensed classroom teacher. So, do TCGIS students receive a quality education from their classroom teacher with extra help from 30 engaged native German speakers? Ja, voll!

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/12/2019 - 04:19 pm.

    Would this puff piece have been published if the author weren’t a former Secretary of State?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/12/2019 - 06:15 pm.

      Yes. 100 percent. This piece is a well-deserved response to the sleazy hit piece done by the save the church crowd. They just got a well-known supporter to write it.

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/13/2019 - 07:53 am.

        What was sleazy about it, except that you disagreed with him (and started throwing the usual falsehoods). TCGIS, an school i got nothing against except they have to follow the same rules, got a politician to pitch for them, ironically on the same day the Feds indicted a bunch of powerful people trying to buy their way into American Universities.

        TCGIS is a good institution i’m sure. It would behove them to take another look at the way they’re going about this.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/13/2019 - 10:55 am.

          So you are comparing a politician who made a public statement in support of a school with people who committed criminal fraud to get their kids into college? Um, ok.

  3. Submitted by Jeffery Thole on 03/12/2019 - 06:39 pm.

    According to the Minnesota Report Card, only 56% of classes at TCGIS are taught by licensed educators. This compares to about 95% at Como Park Elementary and about 97% for SPPS as a whole.

    • Submitted by Kallie Orlova on 03/13/2019 - 10:28 am.

      Jeffery Thole I was also reading the Minnesota Department of Education’s report card on TCGIS and I have come to conclusion that you have misinterpreted the information on it. It stated 56% of staff were licensed teachers. All of TCGIS’s teachers are licensed per Minnesots state law. I have done the research on that. I have contacted the department of education to ask questions about licensing for foreign teachers as well. Even the foreign teachers you refer to are licensed to teach at the school.
      What I found to be of more importance when I read this report was the number of students per licensed teacher was 16. That is a wonderful number to see. I am also impressed by the numbers of interns/student teachers from abroad and paraprofessionals that the school employs that are not included in that 56%.

  4. Submitted by Chris Johnson on 03/12/2019 - 08:00 pm.

    Great essay. TCGIS has been a great school for hundreds of students. It’s nice that it finally receive some recognition for all its years of hard work, by staff, by parents and by students.

  5. Submitted by John Baxter on 03/14/2019 - 11:09 am.

    Mark Ritchie is exactly right that TCGIS is an asset to Minnesota. But, instead, posts here are arguing about kumquats and koalas. This small issue has become a microcosm of everything that is wrong with our nation right now. No one is listening, and everyone has their own version of reality.

    The anti-school posts above are chalk full of inaccuracies and “what-about-isms.” Factual corrections have been posted, but no one is open to listening. Supporters of the school, too, have engaged in “what-about-ism”—the Catholic church sex abuse scandal is despicable, and arguably on some indirect level the fallout from that scandal has caused financial and parishioner losses, contributing to the Diocese de-sanctifying and selling off the former St Andrews church. But it is a kumquat; it is not the center of the disagreement.

    At the center of the disagreement is a structure, that some people love, but those same people do not own it and do not want to pay for its deferred maintenance, nor have they made any concrete moves to take responsibility for it. I am sure the school would most willingly sell the church structure for a dollar, and allow it to be moved and renovated by a preservation group with the experience and funds to do so. However, there are no funds to do so. No one has come forward with plans or funds to renovate the structure; and what preservation funds exist (sadly, too little funding) are being directed at higher caliber preservation projects (Fort Snelling comes to mind.) The school has a primary purpose to educate children and has funding (sadly, too little funding) for that purpose. In order to educate children, a school requires appropriate facilities and has to use the little facility funding it has wisely and carefully. That, my friends, is the crux of the matter: money.

    But instead of looking for ways to actually save the structure, a very small and very vocal but well-connected group of activists have used their influence to bully the school. There have been so many koalas thrown at the school, it is hard to keep track of them. The traffic from carpool cars was too much, but when the school added another bus route, the complaint shifted: the busses take up too much space on Van Slyke. One of the improvements from the construction plan is to create more pick up space on Como by eliminating an unnecessary curb cut, but of course, this plan has been vehemently opposed.

    And here is a kicker—the king koala, if you will—this group has literally filed a petition requesting an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). For those who don’t know, EAWs are meant for large scale projects (mandatory categories include: nuclear fuel storage facilities and petroleum refineries) with the potential for significant environmental damage. As matter of public record, the petition representative on the EAW request against the school is Roy Neal, who has posted above. He is one of the leaders of SHSA. The petition has signatories from Chaska, Forest Lake, and even Hudson, Wisconsin—a full 80% of the hundred-odd signatures came from outside St Paul—all of whom signed stating “significant environmental impacts” that that they would personally suffer from a school remodeling project miles away. (Also as a matter of public record, Mr Neal likewise does not live in the Warrendale neighborhood.) The so-called “significant environmental impacts” would be caused by standard construction practices, exhaust from school busses, and, this is a direct quote, from “increased noise levels from higher student population.” This refers to the sounds from children playing on the playground. Yes, Virginia, crusaders have taken decibel readings from sounds coming from human children playing outside and requested a $10,000 noise study. To repeat, these are grown ups complaining –not about amplified sound from a three day Lollapalooza concert, not about jack hammering at 3:00 AM—but about children playing outside, an activity that happens only on the days and during the limited hours when the school is in use. School children playing is an environmental hazard? What planet are we on?

    I would like to point out that the EAW petition is more than just a delay tactic. The petition has to be evaluated to by the City of St Paul and the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, using up scarce city and state resources on a vendetta against a public charter school. If the EAW petition is granted, the “short” worksheet will require 2-3 months to complete; typically the answers amount to over a hundred pages of research by well-paid experts. This, like the $20,000 parking study that the planning commission required based on the complaints of a few people with garages to park in, comes out of the education budget of the school. (The school is also diligently trying to mitigate the parking concerns, but it does warrant note that this isn’t a high density neighborhood that relies on street parking.) There are real harms caused by these koalas. “Win, win” has been the oft-repeated rallying cry of SHSA, but there is no win-win when one side’s “win” is to be able to gaze upon an costly, derelict structure that they have no financial stake in. Every effort of SHSA is a step toward a “Lose, Lose-Bigger” result. They are using every dirty tactic to delay and cause tangible harms to a wonderful public school that is an asset to the state of Minnesota, as Mark Ritchie so eloquently stated above.

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