John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School wins national award for ties to Saint Pauls East Side
Wednesday, September 29, 2004 3:20 PM

John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School received the Richard W. Riley Medal of Excellence for its connection to Saint Paul's East Side community.
Earlier this year, a group of education experts set out to find Americas school that is best connected to its community.

After an extensive national search, KnowledgeWorks Foundation has named Saint Paul's John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School as the best example of a school that is the center of its community.

A panel of nine judges unanimously selected John A. Johnson from more than 50 schools. Criteria placed a strong emphasis on community engagement, the design of the facility for community use, and community partnerships.

Since opening four years ago, John A. Johnson has become a critical fixture on Saint Paul's East Side. In addition to using its space for teaching, the school also includes medical areas, a family center, counseling space and a YMCA. Last year the school hosted 174 community meetings and events.

"This award really is an award for the entire East Side community of Saint Paul," said Patricia Harvey, Saint Pauls Superintendent of Schools, "and a wonderful statement that when you open up a school to the community good things happen for the students, the families, and the community."

"This search isn't just about the architectural design of the school," said Pam Loeffelman, one of the judges and incoming Chair of the Committee on Architecture for Education. "You can have a school with a great design but with no real connection to the community. This search is all about how to marry great design with community partnerships to improve teaching and learning and improve the community at the same time."

John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School is a state-of-the-art community school serving 320 children from kindergarten to sixth-grade. The school is located on the East Side of Saint Paul, a section of the city that has seen economic hard times in the last decade coupled with a rapid increase in the rate of child poverty. According to KnowledgeWorks, several unique features of the school captured the attention of the judges:

- The community was extensively involved in the design of the new facility, which required community support for the demolition of some houses.

- In renovating an old high school building, the design team from Ankeny Kell Architects made an extensive effort to integrate space for support services including mental, health, family support, housing assistance, early childhood, adult education, dental and tutoring services.

- The school has a core academic model built around three components: a standards-based academic program, extensive after-school learning opportunities and critical supports for students and their families.
According to Curt Milburn, director of the $500 million Phalen Corridor Revitalization Project, John A. Johnson Elementary School is a worthy winner. "John A. Johnson is at the heart of our efforts to reinvigorate the East Side," he said.
The school design supports each of those strands. As a result, student achievement on standardized testing increased substantially in the 2003-04 school year.

- The renovated 75,000 square foot school is located next to a new 63,000-square-foot YMCA that serves 3000 students and community members.

- The school is a creative partnership between the city, the school district, Ramsey County, the YMCA, the East Side Family Center (a community-based organization), and the Wilder Foundation.

- The school includes office space for the Opportunity Housing Investment Fund, which seeks to reduce student mobility in this highly transient neighborhood by finding permanent housing for families. Approximately 12 families have found housing.

This is a wonderful school that really has made a commitment to its community, said Paul Farmer, one of the judges and the executive director of the American Planning Association. I was impressed by how the school has become the anchor for neighborhood renewal.

According to Curt Milburn, director of the $500 million Phalen Corridor Revitalization Project, John A. Johnson Elementary School is a worthy winner. "Since we began increasing the vitality of our community, weve created 2,000 jobs, 1,000 units of housing and reinvigorated this area," he said. "The John A. Johnson building serves as an community meeting center where many critical issues are discussed and acted upon. And the students and staff at the school have played a key role in helping us make many important decisions. John A. Johnson is at the heart of our efforts."

For being the judges selection, John A. Johnson Elementary School received $5,000. In addition, the school and the buildings architects, Ankeny Kell Architects, received the Richard W. Riley Award for Excellence. The award is named after former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley. According to KnowledgeWorks President and CEO Chad Wick, Riley has been a national leader in the effort to re-imagine the American schoolhouse and to create schools as centers of community.

Thirteen other schools from across the country were also selected by the judges to become part of the foundations Schools as Centers of Community Honor Society. These schools and John A. Johnson Elementary School will become part of a new design gallery hosted by the oundation at

For more information about John A. Johnson Elementary School, visit and click on Schools. For more information about KnowledgeWorks, visit