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Envision SPPS: Providing all students with a well-rounded education

Envision SPPS: Our plan for well-rounded programs, is a new SPPS Achieves initiative under Objective 5: Program Evaluation and Resource Allocation. Specifically, Envision SPPS supports the district’s key goal of providing all students with a well-rounded education by aligning its school facilities with its programs. (See July 20 Board presentation here.)

SPPS is committed to managing our resources wisely so we can fulfill our promise to families to prepare students to think critically so they can pursue their dreams and change the world. To be responsible with our resources, we must look at how we can build sustainable systems and programs to provide all students with the education they deserve now and into the future.

Launched in February 2020, Envision is driven by 11 workgroups*, most composed of SPPS staff, parents, community partners and other organizations. Each workgroup is focused on a topic area that, taken together, provides a holistic approach to illuminate the complexities around the challenges to delivering a well-rounded education. Workgroups have been tasked to identify findings that can inform recommendations to Dr. Gothard and the Board of Education. A final report with recommendations is anticipated early this fall. Certain recommendations will be phased in over the next two years (SY2022-23 and SY2023-24), while others may be implemented at a later date.  

Preparing our programs and facilities for new opportunities

A key theme identified by workgroups is that the size of a school program--meaning the number of students--determines the degree to which a well-rounded education can be delivered. Specifically, the larger the program, the more sustainable it becomes due to how student enrollment determines program budgets by providing economies of scale.

Other emerging themes highlight opportunities for expanding successful programs along with related facility needs such as:

  • Providing flexible, adaptable learning spaces to support well-rounded programs.
  • Preparing our buildings for the rising interest in expanding pre-K education to three and four year olds.
  • Delivering multiple specialized services to more students.
  • Ensuring our facilities can support new innovative technologies that deliver virtual educational programs through more personalized and engaging ways. 
  • Creating spaces to welcome more partners into our schools to supplement student and family supports.

Solutions and options for providing well-rounded programs

Maintaining and replicating successful well-rounded programs is at the heart of Envision SPPS. This means ensuring all schools are able to provide students with instruction that builds on a deep understanding of the fundamentals of reading, writing and math. It means providing all students equitable access to quality instruction in the sciences, the arts, physical education and enrichment opportunities. It means providing students with the social and emotional supports they need to navigate the complexities of life and learning while supporting families in that process. And it also means providing teachers and other staff with job-embedded professional development that strengthens their ability to provide authentic personalized learning for every student.

In St. Paul and across Minnesota and the nation, birth rates continue to fall. Birth rates continue to decline in Minnesota and the city of St. Paul. This is a national trend that won’t be turning around any time soon. Fewer children being born means fewer students are entering our schools. We are at a point where it has become unsustainable to continue to maintain schools that are significantly under enrolled. 

Historically, the district has financed under-enrolled schools through its general education budget to help keep their doors open. But to do so means taking resources from schools that have enough students to maintain a robust, well-rounded education program. If we continue to chip away at these well-rounded programs, more and more students are denied the quality education they deserve.  

Our educators have worked incredibly hard and have been creative and resourceful in building supportive schools that deliver standards-based education as enrollment and resources have decreased. The pandemic has highlighted the daily challenges teachers and schools face in maintaining strong relationships with students and families. Envision will propose several strategies to help preserve and honor teachers’ work and effective programs as we create the schools of the future together. 

The time has come for us to implement long-term, sustainable solutions to ensure all students get the well-rounded education they deserve. A range of solutions and options are being considered for how best to transform programs to provide all students with a well-rounded education and ensure these programs can be sustained into the future. As we work to find the best solution for each unique school community, this may mean some programs may be co-located with another program, while other programs may be merged or combined, along with other possible solutions. Determining which option will be applied to which school has yet to be determined. 

Most of these changes will happen to a minimal number of  elementary schools, and some middle school programs and related secondary pathways may also change. 

As we determine which sites are unsustainable and provide long-term solutions on how best to provide all students with the education they deserve, we will be working with the NAACP to develop an equity impact assessment tool to avoid negative unintended consequences.

Once the Envision SPPS report is finalized and recommendations advanced to the Board of Education this fall, affected school communities will receive details on next steps and how they can participate in helping envision vibrant, well-rounded programs that prepare students for success in college and career to provide them with a life enriched by opportunities.  

*Envision SPPS Workgroups

  • College and Career Paths
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Enrollment
  • Facilities Utilization/Alignment
  • Language Immersion
  • Integration
  • Middle School Model
  • Montessori Pathway
  • Special Education
  •  Talent, Development and Acceleration Service Pathway (TDAS)
  • Well-Rounded Education