What? An East African-centered primary school is set to commence in St. Paul this autumn?!
In a mind-boggling turn of events, St. Paul Public Schools has made a daring move to attract a community that has been known to send its children elsewhere for education. In the fall, the district is set to open the East African Magnet Elementary School in the Frogtown neighborhood, with the aim of creating a school that focuses on the language and culture of nine East African countries. The school will be housed in the building of the former Jackson Elementary, which previously hosted a Hmong language and culture program merged with another on the East Side as part of the district’s Envision SPPS redesign.
It has taken several months of negotiations and discussions between staff and community members to bring about this ambitious plan. St. Paul Public School Superintendent Joe Gothard wrote in a note to his staff members that “they just needed someone to build it. And build it we will.”
The district is facing a considerable challenge of attracting children to a school just four months before its opening. Typically, the families of potential students make school choice decisions early in the year, during January and February. Meanwhile, job interviews for prospective teachers are only just beginning for internal candidates. The district would also open the jobs to external candidates, added Gothard.
The East African Magnet Elementary School will center on Somali, Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Arabic, and Swahili. Abdisalam Adam, a highly respected educator and community leader, has been appointed to serve as the school’s principal. Adam has been with the district since 1997 and was most recently the assistant principal at Highland Park High School. He speaks Somali, English, and Arabic and has lived in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.
The East Side area of St. Paul has a significant Somali community, and the opening of the new school could potentially result in the loss of students from two charter schools: Higher Ground Academy and STEP Academy, both of which have a high percentage of English language learners. While Higher Ground Academy is the more prominent of the two, with 1,052 students identifying as Black or African American, a challenge for the district would be to draw children to enroll in the school so close to its opening.
Details about the school’s curriculum and offerings are expected to be revealed in the coming weeks. With the opening of East African Magnet Elementary School at the Jackson Elementary site, the district has now repurposed and found an alternative use for every building closed as part of the Envision SPPS redesign.