Friday, January 28, 2011

SPPS District Plan

Dear Members of the Board,

I am writing in regard to Supt. Silva's new plan for SPPS, and I thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

One of the great things I see in this plan is the focus and accountability it places on families and communities. I am also in favor of rethinking intradistrict transportation, because according to Supt. Silva during a meeting with Open World Learning Community staff, this transportation costs up to $150,000 per student per year depending on their school choice. I see great potential in for equity in the idea of a zero-based budget plan, and am thrilled it is on the table.

My deep concern lies not with the intentions of this plan, but in the potential accidental aftermath. In the state supreme court case of Sheff V. O'Neill, it was held that the students in Hartford, Connecticut schools were racially, ethnically, and economically isolated. As a result, they did not receive a substantially equal education. Two areas were wholly overlooked in Hartford's initial plan; that of social and intellectual experiences within schools, and that of physical school condition. Given that schools are crucial institutions for the socialization of students, the educational experience between schools in Hartford was found to differ greatly; economic and racial isolation gives no opportunity for the mutual respect and understanding that is necessary in building a cohesive and strong community. It is also important to note the study written by Glen Earthman in 2002 entitled "School Facility Conditions and Student Academic Achievement." He states that school buildings have an influence on teacher performance, which in turn affects student performance. This evidence has been argued against in many arenas, but the basic fact remains that if a building is not deemed worth fixing, the attitudes of students and teachers reflects that same low self-worth.

Having attended schools in SPPS, and now working within them, I am acutely aware of the disparities in equipment and overall building appearance, as well as racial and socioeconomic experiences, specifically between Area(s) F1/2 and Area C. With a zero-based budget, the socioeconomic disparity means equality for students in the future, but it does not address the current conditions at area schools.

What I am asking for is not radical. I am asking for a plan and a system of checks and balances that ensures these disparities will be addressed before the beginning of the 2013 school year. I am asking for an amendment to the three year plan that includes rigorous monitoring of the equality of experiences and overall education between areas and schools. As a successful college graduate who attended St. Paul Public Schools for 13 years, I believe strongly in the district's ability to provide a substantial and phenomenal education for all its students that upholds the state and federal constitutional ideals of equality in education. I look to you, our elected school board members, to maintain this reputation and potential.

Thank you for your time,
Alexandra M. Riley
U of M B.A. English Literature, Gender Studies, French (2009)
Central High School graduate (2005)

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