Letter: White plan helps OltmanThe boundary issue is a touchy subject with many residents in the district. Unfortunately, the important issue that everyone seems to be avoiding is a socio-economically diverse population at each of the schools, most importantly at the junior high level.
By: Jen Keeling, St. Paul Parkl,
The boundary issue is a touchy subject with many residents in the district. Unfortunately, the important issue that everyone seems to be avoiding is a socio-economically diverse population at each of the schools, most importantly at the junior high level. Why would this be an important issue you ask? Lower-income areas tend to score lower on state testing. Required courses and availability of elective courses offered are determined by these scores, and as of right now, success at schools are determined by these test scores. Not only does it benefit the students at the schools, but it could potentially benefit the parents and families in the attendance area. A diverse population brings in more involvement from parents in the Parent Teacher Organization and the ability to contribute more to classrooms, books and field trips. It also brings with more possibilities of enrichment programs and information to pursue educational interests outside of school.
Looking at the plans for the high school boundaries it seems that they are looking to be sure that each school is balanced socio-economically. Why the sudden change? The committee involved realizes the importance of this issue and is trying to remedy the situation at the high school level. Unfortunately, too late, it seems. Why wasn’t socio-economic diversity one of the most important criteria in determining the middle school boundaries? The ideal solution to balance Oltman with the rest of the district was right in front of everyone and ignored. Cottage Grove Elementary (the west portion) students attending Oltman and Armstrong going to Cottage Grove Junior High would have evened out and changed the socio-economic issues being faced at Oltman completely. It wasn’t even listed as an option because of the fact that the ‘08-‘09 school year’s sixth-graders are slated to attend Cottage Grove Junior High due to lack of room at Cottage Grove Elementary (even though Oltman is being underutilized.) This area is closer to Oltman than to Cottage Grove and vice versa with Armstrong, it would have made much more sense.
The Red and Blue plans call for the Newport area to be the addition to the Oltman area. The Red plan also adds a small section of Woodbury and Cottage Grove that would attend Newport Elementary. Newport and St. Paul Park are the lowest income areas in the school district and two of the three plans call for placing them together which would make Oltman’s free and reduced lunch number the highest in the district and comparable with some intercity schools. Information on the projected population of the proposed middle school plans needs to be made public to the people; that would include the percentage of ethnicity and the percentage of free/reduced students slated to attend each middle school. How can the school board make a decision that would be the least discriminatory if this information isn’t being included?
The White Plan is the only option that does not place Newport at Oltman, therefore it is the most diverse of the three middle school options. That plan currently leaves the Oltman enrollment as is, but adds the Hillside area close to the elementary school and an area east of the Armstrong area with no population slated to attend. The White Plan also offers the least amount of relocation in exception to the large area in Woodbury to attend Cottage Grove Middle School.
Oltman is already regarded by people living in the district as being the “poor” school that does not give the same opportunities as the other junior highs in the district. This can be shown by one of the many comments left by a parent of the section of Woodbury slated to go to Oltman in the Red Plan. “Too few kids are being singled out to leave (WMS). Established Woodbury residents are having lowest priority to new growth.” Attending Oltman means that you are given the “lowest priority” and that is the feeling is definitely not a new one to the people in Oltman’s attendance. In fact, the realization that to keep some sense of equity, they would need to divide Oltman to even out the population and make it more diverse to the three high school. Oltman, having the smallest enrollment numbers, is slated to be the only middle school being divided in thirds to all the high schools in the Blue Plan leaving the students to be completely pulled apart to attend each high school! The only middle school, with the smallest enrollment number, split between three high schools!
Dividing schools and cities is a difficult process that can hurt a lot of people in the process. The one thing we need to remember is that this isn’t about distance to schools, attending school outside of the city limits, or keeping sports teams together; it’s about getting the best educational opportunities and most well rounded socio-economic balance that we can offer our children. We want our children to challenge each other and strive for their best, we want them to have experiences in school where they are valued and taught that they can be what ever they want, regardless of where they live or attend school. We are a community, a school district, and above all, we are people who all want the best for our children.
St. Paul Park