Envision SPPS passes, several schools to close

After weeks of meetings — some filled with passion and emotional testimony from parents and students — the St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education voted in favor to close six schools.

District officials say this plan, called Envision SPPS, would allow them to better use their resources, but the feedback from parents has been overwhelmingly negative.

Wednesday night, after another meeting filled with discussions, the BOE voted 5-2 to pass a version of Envision SPPS that was recently amended by the board to keep three schools — Highwood Hills Elementary School, LEAP High School and Wellstone Elementary School — open.

Schools that are now closing at the end of the 2021-22 school year include:

  • Galtier Elementary School
  • Jackson Preparatory Elementary School
  • John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary
  • L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion Lower
  • Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School

L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion Lower will merge with its upper campus and Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School will become a Hmong and dual culture program.

Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary School will be closing after the 2022-23 school year.

The passage almost did not happen Wednesday night because vice-chair for the SPPS BOE, Jim Vue, motioned a vote to not close any schools at the end of the year.

“Earlier today as I was getting ready to come here tonight and vote on this proposal, my son came home from school and he came up to me and said ‘dad don’t close my school,’” Vue said. “And I finally realized that I hadn’t grappled with the fact that I was closing his school,” Vue added emotionally.

That motion eventually came to a vote but did not get enough support to pass.

Vue’s final push did make clear the impact this has had on board members.

Treasurer for the BOE, John Brodrick, was one of two no votes and spent part of his time expressing frustration about how the last few weeks have gone as the board connected with the community about Envision SPPS.

“I had truly expected to hear sadness, and maybe even anger from people whose schools were being directly affected,” Brodrick said. “What I was hoping not to hear was a general sense of frustration, disappointment and distrust from so many different people, and that’s what I heard,” he added.

After reminding people he will not be back after this term, Brodrick had a message for the board and community as it moves forward with this plan.

“Unfortunately distrust in our district was clearly on display the last several weeks by people from all of our diverse communities,” Brodrick said with passion. “We can never, we can never expect to halt declining enrollment until we restore trust,” he added as part of the audience applauded him.

“The modified proposal will only put a Band-Aid on this almost mortal wound of distrust,” Brodrick said.

According to the district, there are more than 8,000 empty seats across St. Paul schools, making programs unsustainable.

District officials say relocating students would help provide a more well-rounded education for all students, with specialies in the arts, sciences and gifted instruction.

Following the board’s vote, SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard shared his understanding of the difficulties this will have on families whose schools are closing.

“My message to them is that we’re going to look at this in an individualized way and to make sure we can reach out to families and students and attempted to make this as seamless as possible,” Dr. Gothard said.

“We have many great schools around our district but right now we have too many,” Dr. Gothard added. “We have too many to spread our resources. [I’m] really looking at this as an opportunity to add what students are experiencing.”

For families that are impacted by the closures, the district says they’ll have priority when picking a new school if they do not like the school they’ll be assigned.