QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Open World Learning Community (OWL) has been approved by the Board of Education for a move to a permanent home in the former Humboldt Middle School building at 30 East Baker Street on St. Paul’s West Side.
With staff and parent input, the building will be redesigned to enhance OWL's Expeditionary Learning focus. An expanded learning environment, access to sports fields and an OWL auditorium will offer Open students a range of possibilities.
1. This will be Open World’s third home in four years. This is too disruptive for our community and our students.
A: We understand it is difficult to move again and if there was another less disruptive alternative, we would do it. We didn’t anticipate that Open World would grow as it has, but due largely to the recruiting efforts of the school community, it has become quite popular.
Both Open World and Creative Arts cannot fit in the Kellogg Building for the 2014/2015 school year. OWL, as a grade 6-12 school, will have approximately 400 students – and we are able to keep it at that size since it doesn’t have any specific feeder schools. Creative Arts, on the other hand, is the middle and senior high school pathway for four elementary and middle schools. It needs room for around 650 students in order to accommodate all the students that want to follow the arts pathway. The Kellogg Building cannot hold that many students and the Humboldt Middle site was our only available building.
2. Why not move Creative Arts instead?
A: The decision was made to move Open World instead of Creative Arts because it’s important to keep our performing arts school near downtown arts, dancing and music venues. For an effective arts program, the arts must be embedded in every school day, and Creative Arts will use those venues every single day as an extension of the classroom. We are working to partner with some of these organizations (such as McNally Smith Music School) to help Creative Arts students earn PSEO credits.
SPPS previously had an ALC creative arts school located on University Ave for years and its enrollment was flat, around 80 to 100 students – not sustainable for a high school. This year, the enrollment has increased drastically and for the first time, the school now has a waiting list. We attribute this growth to the location and facilities, as well as the expansion of the program. When we moved Open and Creative Arts to the Kellogg building, the district invested resources in the building that were fundamentally necessary to run an arts school, including art rooms and a darkroom.
3. How much district money (not OWL money) will be made available for Metro Transit passes, bus tokens and other transportation to continue community partnerships if there is a move?
A: We don't anticipate OWL losing any community partnerships. If transportation becomes a barrier, we will explore all opportunities including metro bus passes and field trip buses, to make sure partnerships continue. We also anticipate OWL creating brand new partnerships at its new location. Like all schools, field trips to downtown and other areas across the Twin Cities are a normal part of school.
4. How much of a priority is OWL’s growing STEM program? Has SPPS budgeted funds to provide the design and lab spaces that we are requesting?
A: SPPS administration is open to team up with OWL leadership, staff and parents, to identify program priorities and the resources needed to meet those priorities. The school has $4 million available in capital bonds for renovation, which will be part of the construction of effective science learning environments for students. Those dollars will, however, need to be prioritized for all projects at Open, as outlined later in this document.
5. Is there money for improvements to the Humboldt theater (i.e. fly system for lights and backdrops, sound board, updated light board)? Can we redesign the rooms adjacent to the theater to put in dressing rooms, a green room and a theater classroom?
A: Theatre instruction can take place in the new location, but as with any construction project, the available $4 million in capital bond construction funding will need to be prioritized during the design process.
6. How many days at the end of the 2013-14 school year and beginning of the 2014-15 school year will be allocated to pay for teachers to pack and unpack?
A: SPPS is currently negotiating in the teacher contract the issue of compensation for teachers that are required to move to a new location due to program changes. We anticipate that we will come to an agreement that will be beneficial to teachers and that will apply to the Open World move. People interested in more information on this should contact the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT)
7. Will there be a media center or media lab with printers at the new site? This can be a place for classes to come down to do History Day research.
A: The former Humboldt Middle building has a media center space and will be remodeled as part of the renovations. As mentioned before, the design of the new OWL learning environment will be guided by the OWL leadership team. With the rollout of our Personalized Learning platform, technology integration and improvements will occur at the Humboldt location. We will have improved wireless technology, along with computer hardware and software to support student learning.
8. Has anyone thought through the relationship between Open and Humboldt? How will SPPS ensure that there are positive relations between the two schools, and that Open feels and is welcome on the West Side?
A: The relationship between Humboldt and OWL begins with the leadership teams of each school and its community. When schools are moved in close proximity to each other, SPPS provides paid planning and training time for schools to deepen partnerships. As Superintendent Silva mentioned at the October Board of Education meeting, we anticipate mutual family activities that will allow the school communities to become better acquainted. Much of how the schools interact will be determined by those very communities. There may also be opportunities for combined professional development, joint staff meetings, and other joint activities. We look to the communities for direction and ideas.
If the Open World community chooses to partner with Humboldt, they may be able to take advantage of some programming opportunities and after-school bus transportation that they’ve never before had access to, including: a swimming pool, an athletic-sized gymnasium, and specialized high-level classes. Currently, Humboldt hosts these after school activities four days a week.
9. How will Open World retain its small, community feel if the school is mixed with the Humboldt student population?
A: The school populations will not mix except in areas where future partnerships may develop, such as electives or athletic options. This will be up to OWL on whether they'd like to pursue these options.
10. How do we know the district won’t change its mind in a year or two when Humboldt needs to reclaim its middle school space.
A: The Humboldt Middle School site held up to 550 students comfortably when it operated as a middle school, though Open World may not grow to that size. The community should know that a school in SPPS must have 350-400 students in order to generate enough funding to provide the range of academics and learning supports that we believe are essential for a rich learning experience. That would translate to about two classes at each grade level.
SPPS sees this as a permanent move for Open, though we can understand why you might think otherwise. Humboldt Senior can house up to 1,235 students. Only 27% of its current enrollment of 1,185 is actually from Area D. If school demand from Area D increases significantly, SPPS can prioritize admittance for West Side families. Our research shows, however, that even if all Area D students chose SPPS (over privates and charter), the school would not likely be full.
11. Can SPPS commit to retaining our current staff? Even our newest teachers have received some Expeditionary Learning training, but some are untenured, and we are concerned that this transition might jeopardize their positions. We are also concerned about retaining the OWL school secretary and parent liaison, two outstanding members of our community who have taken on some Creative Arts duties in the past two years.
A: Yes. Current OWL staff have first priority to remain with the program after the move. Though we are committed to retaining current staff at OWL, the District is obligated to follow our labor contracts in the event of budget reductions. We will work with our unions to maintain current staff should staff reductions be necessary. We actually anticipate that due to the growth of the program, more staff will be added.
12.What is happening with leadership? Will the Humboldt administration team serve both schools? Are teachers going to the new location?
A: OWL will have its own principal.
13. If OWL moves away from a downtown base, might some students migrate to the nearby Expeditionary Learning charter school? How will SPPS ensure that OWL does not lose students as a part of this move?
A: Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but after looking at the number of applications for 13-14 school year, we do not anticipate an enrollment decrease. Because the Humboldt site is located in a very strategic border (close to both South St. Paul and West St. Paul), the school may offer a new choice for families and students in those cities, and we will market the school accordingly. As always, we are committed to providing communications and marketing support for all our schools in transition. We could also look at the time Tim Leone-Getten is scheduled to work on enrollment, adjusting his schedule to support this transition.
SPPS is committed to funding OWL to fully implement Expeditionary Learning at an approximate cost of $70,000 per year for each of the next three years. These additional dollars that the district is putting aside as a commitment to OWL’s infrastructure and professional development.
14. How will SPPS work to market OWL so that it stays competitive with charter schools?
A: SPPS supported OWL with its marketing and communication outreach last year. We will continue this relationship and will work to increase enrollment for all SPPS schools. For example, a communications audit can look at how OWL communicates with families and perhaps find new outlets and ideas to reach families in a timely manner. This move will also require a communications plan through the Office of Communications, Marketing and Development. This plan will help lay out communications priorities to help with the flow of information and ease the transition to the new site.
15. What data are available about current facilities upgrades needed at Humboldt?
A: In 2009, a Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA) was performed for every facility in Saint Paul Public Schools. An FCA is an industry standard way of attaching a value to existing systems, as well as improvements necessary to provide a consistent educational environment. To put that dollar value into perspective, when compared to the replacement value of the facility (which creates a metric called the Facility Condition Index – “FCI”) it is clear that the Humboldt Junior building is squarely in the median range of facilities for Saint Paul Public Schools in terms of upgrades needed.
It is extremely important to note that none of the work described in the FCA has to happen in order for students to begin utilizing the building again – it is simply a means of prioritizing educational improvements as well as both preventative and deferred maintenance. Humboldt Junior’s FCA report can be found at: http://www.spps.org/uploads/HumboldtJuniorHigh.pdf
16. How much exactly will be available for facility upgrades at Humboldt? Is $3 million a real figure? Has the School Board approved it? How much of that will be needed for basic upgrades?
A: The proposed budget for the renovation of Humboldt Middle to become Open World Learning was based on a feasibility analysis of the program’s fit into the building and standard cost of construction (generally, cost-per-square-foot). Additionally, funding for deferred maintenance of flooring was appropriated in order to upgrade more of the educational environment. All told, there is $4 million identified for the renovation: $3,020,000 in capital improvements (capital construction bond funding), $980,000 in flooring replacement (alternative deferred maintenance bond funding). The Board of Education approved the Alternative Bond projects for summer 2014 work earlier this year. The Board of Education will approve the sale of the Capital Bonds next spring.
17. Is there SPPS money set aside for furniture appropriate for an Expeditionary Learning model?
A: Unequivocally, the learning environment will be fully furnished for Open World Learning’s new home. The Facilities department believes that there is a strong link between the character of Expeditionary Learning and more progressive models of educational furnishing and will strongly advocate for appropriate sourcing of furniture. At this time, the space must first be designed before the actual furniture need is defined. Once defined, alignment of resources will occur.
18. Is there SPPS money set aside for technology improvements (interactive white boards, etc.)?
A: Capital bond funding will supplement the above construction costs in order to ensure that the technology to support Personalized Learning is in place for all our schools in a reasonable timeframe. In recent applications, upgrades have included a robust wireless network, a front of classroom display with distributed speakers and wireless collar microphones in every classroom.
19. What is the plan for upgrading heating and cooling in OWL’s new home?
A: There is no critical need to upgrade the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system of the Humboldt Junior building. As part of the renovation, it is likely that some modifications to the heating systems will need replacement, upgrade or supplementing. These modifications are part of the construction cost. The building and complex is currently not air-conditioned and there are currently no plans to include air conditioning in the scope of the construction work.
20. The OWL Community was not a part of the decision to move our program. How will SPPS ensure that we have meaningful input on how the remodel and move occur?
A: The community was not part of the decision-making process because the district is committed to involving parents in decisions where their voices and opinions can have an impact. In this case, after weighing all options (including leasing another building and using all the data available), there was a clear choice – Humboldt Middle School. SPPS is not in the position to lease additional space when we have a building available. The Open World community will be invited to be very involved in helping make the new site geared for the expeditionary learning program.
21. Will OWL stay a district-wide magnet and will bus transportation still be provided to all students who are accepted within the district?
A: OWL's status as a district-wide magnet will not change and transportation guidelines will stay the same.
22. As a district-wide magnet, bus rides can get long. What is the longest bus ride the district allows?
A: Weather and traffic can always cause delays, but it's our goal to keep bus rides under 45 minutes.
23. Could we get a general timeline that incorporates when parent feedback will be collected, when the board will vote on this, when plans will be created, when building will begin?
A: The design process for the building’s renovations will include opportunities for parent feedback through the end of this year. Heavy construction will primarily occur over the summer (2014) months and we are optimistic that the plans can be fast-tracked for a spring construction start.