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Mayor Coleman wants all kids to reach potential; touts St. Paul’s progress

In today’s annual State of the City address, the mayor focused on the importance of education and touted development projects.

Mayor Chris Coleman

In today’s annual State of the City address, Mayor Chris Coleman focused heavily on the importance of education in the city, calling for programs that will let all children reach their potential.

He also spent time crowing a bit about some of the city’s projects already underway (or still in the “hope” stage).

And he broke some news on the proposed Saints ballpark in Lowertown by announcing that city officials have reached agreement to buy the land around the old Gillette plant, not far from the Farmers’ Market, where that baseball park would go, if state funding goes through.

(It’s not a certainty. Gov. Mark Dayton supports the project, but the state House bonding bill provides just a small amount of the needed state funding.)

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Coleman spoke for about 40 minutes at the James J. Hill Library in downtown St. Paul at noon.

He was introduced by Council President Kathy Lantry, who said the city’s prospects are “more hopeful today than in years past.”

The economy is better, light rail is nearing completion and test scores are rising, she said, “and the vast majority of us still like each other, depending on the day.”

Coleman started his remarks on a downer: cataloging the city’s recent problems: the worst economy since the 1930s, fights over light rail and trying to help businesses affected by it, foreclosures throughout the city, the loss of the Ford Plant, an erosion of government aid from the Legislature and the nagging achievement gap in the schools.

Those problems would be enough “to send any city into a spiral,” he said.

But not St. Paul, he said: “We have met our challenges head on. We joined forces across the community and began work that will not only strengthen our city, but transform it for future generations.”

He said he has full confidence that the city is on the right track. (But then he had to cue the audience to applaud.)

He noted the worst  of the light rail construction is nearly over and that the city is embarking on a streetcar study. And the Penfield housing and grocery store project on the old police headquarters site downtown “is perhaps only months away from ground-breaking,” he said. The Lofts housing project is 72 percent leased, he said, and improvements to the Ordway Center and Como Zoo are important to the city’s overall health.

He praised some school improvements and referenced the “partnership” with Superintendent Valeria Silva, who last week signed a lucrative new contract with the school board.

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Coleman also talked about the Sprockets program for students that provides opportunities for kids when they’re not in school.

He really likes the parent academies program,which give 750 parents each year a chance to attend six-week programs, in their native language, designed to give them the skills and knowledge to help their children succeed. Parents also visit a college campus during their time in the academy, he said.

To further help parents help their kids, Coleman said he’s recommending a $300,000 city investment that will:

  • Train librarians to help parents use the Parent Portal, especially those who, because of the digital divide, don’t have a computer and aren’t able to regularly track their children’s progress.  
  • We will provide funds to increase the number of parents attending the Parent Academy and we’ll provide incentives to motivate parents to complete the academy.  This will include stipends so kids can attend high-quality summer and after-school programs they might otherwise not be able to afford.  
  • We will work with Saint Paul Public Schools to promote the Think College Early Fair.  What started in 2005 as a project of Progressive Baptist Church, Reverend Earl Miller and JoAnn Clark, has grown to serve all Saint Paul Public School students. 

And he said the city will work with the school district, Ramsey County and the  Schools, Ramsey County and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers on a campaign to help kids “keep their brains and bodies active and learning all
summer.”

He said the campaign would would encourage:

  • 5 days a week of active play
  • 4 new places to visit
  • 3 fresh fruits and veggies daily
  • 2 summer projects
  • 1 (once) a day with a good book

Coleman concluded:

The future leaders of our community lie within. Let us nurture them. Let us support them. In turn, they will give back to us in ways we can’t even imagine.

The state of the city is strong. But the future of Saint Paul will be even brighter when we allow all to shine. 

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.