On Monday night, St. Paul’s public school officials defended the planned closure of Wellstone Elementary, the only school in their consolidation plan that did not fight to keep its enrollment.
Wellstone is one of eight schools to close next under the Envision SPPS plan, a plan slated for a November 16 Student Council vote. By concentrating a shrinking student population in fewer schools, the district says it can afford to provide everything it needs. elementary school students with arts and science professionals and other support needed for a comprehensive education.
Wellstone’s inclusion surprised teachers and parents, including board member Yousef Carrillo, whose wife works there and whose sons are studying.
As part of the consolidation plan, the school’s Biosmart program will be disbanded and its 278 students will move to other science schools.
234 bilingual Spanish students will head to Riverview, where they will join students from nearby Cherokee Heights, which will become a regular public school.
Greg Childs, who helped create the Biosmart program in 2012, said the school has a good science teacher, but the program isn’t particularly strong. According to him, he lost his partnership with the public, and the school administration focused more on the Spanish half of the double-immersion school.
When the Wellstone administration stopped asking him for help, Childs said, “It was explained to us that they have too many initiatives.” Today he said, “I think this is the average science at Wellstone.”
Keith Wilcox-Harris, the county’s chief scientist, said she was a director in a multi-line building and “it’s a struggle when there are competing priorities.”
SOME CLOSEST FROM SCHOOL
Regarding the Spanish immersion decision, COO Jackie Turner said only 22% of Wellstone Immersion students live in the school’s regular attendance area. In Riverview, on the western side of the city, home to a large Hispanic population, the figure is 67 percent.
Officials also felt that the Riverview Building was in better condition than the Wellstone Building, and that closing the Riverview would have left only one rudimentary neighborhood on the city’s West Side.
The merger of the two dive programs should strengthen it, says Assistant Superintendent Efe Agbamu.
She said that in meetings with parents and teachers from Hmong and French schools, who also come together, it was agreed that programs would have more room to grow under one roof.
“With the same mindset, this recommendation is given,” she said of Spanish double-immersion fusion. “Our resources are everywhere. We need to shrink, not expand. “
Carrillo, however, believes the move will hurt school enrollment as the Wellstone families move elsewhere. The key difference, he said, is that the Hmong and French school communities were consulted in developing the plan, but the Wellstone families were not.
“We’re going to create obstacles for the entire double dive track,” he said.
Administrators used Monday’s meeting to respond to board members’ requests for information after the plan was first released last week.
They also sought to allay community concerns about the planned closure of Highwood Hills Elementary, which is adjacent to the recreation center. The area owns a recreation center but is operated by the city of Saint Paul.
Turner said she met with city officials early Monday morning and the recreation center will remain open even if the school closes.
“The recreation center will continue to work and will be available to the population,” she said. “We do not intend to violate the terms of the lease.”