Twin Cities School Notebook

Whose Schools? Our Schools?

Travelers’ Insurance donation to St Paul schools “ushers in new era” of school/business cooperation – St. Paul Superintendent

“When I joined AVID, in the last quarter of my freshman year…my grades were all over the place,” Jordan Steware, a 10th grader at Highland Park Senior High in St Paul said yesterday.  “I had one A, but that was in gym; mostly it was B’s and C’s.”

 After half a year in the AVID program at Highland Park, he says his Grade Point Average has risen to 3.4, and he’s enrolled in all International Baccalaureate (IB); classes. IB is a rigorous academic curriculum used in many schools, similar to the Advanced Placement program, which demands more work from its participants and pushes them harder.

 Some of his AVID classmates were less dramatic, but not much less effusive in their praise for the program, which teaches special organizational skills and college-preparatory skills in a special elective class available to students in the middle third of their class, according to Dr. Darlene Fry, the AVID Program Coordinator at St Paul Public Schools. 

 “I fell in love with C-notes!” exclaimed Morgan Stampley, talking about the Cornell note-taking system taught to AVID students. 

 “AVID helped a lot,” Stampley explained.  “I used to be very disorganized, and I come from a single-parent house, so there wasn’t someone around all the time who could help me.”

 Steware said his friend Tadele talked him into joining AVID last spring with the promise of better grades, better notes, and better organizational skills.  Stampley agreed that the organizational skills were a strong draw, and not just for class.  “This is going to help us more in anything you need to do,” she said.

 Steware, Stampley, and several of their peers from the AVID program at Highland Park Senior High were at a press conference in the school’s library called by SPPS and Travelers Insurance Group to announce the company’s donation of $1.4 million in grants to the district to expand the AVID program to all SPPS schools within five years, via the Travelers Insurance foundation.  The program, developed by a San Diego teacher in 1980,; is currently used at 11 secondary schools and is being piloted at 4 elementary schools.  At Highland Park, there are 75 students in the AVID program out of almost 1,500 in the entire school.

 “This will usher in a new era of how corporations and businessis will be working with the school district,” said St Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.  Carstarphen said more “partnerships” like this would be forthcoming, where a large business donor agrees to finance a particular education reform program defined by the school district.   St Paul schools face a $25 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year, and would ordinarily not be able to fund this program.

 “This will not only help us get out on the front end to close the achievement gap [between students of color and white students], but also go further” to prepare SPPS students for the workforce, Carstarphen said.

 However, Dr. Fry of St Paul’s AVID Program Office said she could not quantify students’ progress due to the AVID program beyond saying that students in the AVID program typically have GPA .2 to .8 points higher than their non-AVID classmates after two to three quarters in the program. 

 Travelers’ Vice President and Chief Administration Officer Andy Bessette said this donation built on Travelers’ current support of the AVID program in St Paul (they donated $100,000 last year, Bessette said), and the company’s other donations to urban education programs in the Twin Cities.  

 Carstarphen said the program would feature “shared accountability for outcomes” between St Paul schools and Travelers Insurance, but the exact shape of this accountability was still being decided. 

 “We’ll be paying attention to a lot of different basic measurements,” Bessette said, citing student attendance, class participation, and their day-to-day work as possible metrics to be followed.  “Travelers has no intention of getting into the business of running schools, though.  The District will still run the schools.”

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"Twin Cities School Notebook" is the personal blog of James Sanna, a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist covering education issues, and a frequent contributor to the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

All content unless otherwise noted is the copywright of James Sanna. Feel free to quote and re-post content elsewhere, so long as it's not for proffit, but please credit me as the original source. Comments, questions, and tips are welcome at: james[dot]sanna[at]gmail[dot]com

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