Board approves integration program with nearby districts

/ 26 April 2012 / jennifer

Danielle Cintron, St. Cloud Times, April 26, 2012 –

The St. Cloud school district’s Integration Equity Plan for 2012-16, which will allow it to continue receiving additional state money for multicultural programs, was approved Thursday.

The board also approved the $1,308,226 budget provided by the state for the integration and equity programs. The vote was unanimous, but Bruce Hentges was absent.

The district became eligible for state integration money because it has a minority population 20 percentage points higher than Holdingford, an adjoining district to the west. Those two districts joined with Foley and Sauk Rapids-Rice to work together on integration efforts. Becker, Kimball and Annandale have since joined the group and also receive state money.

The plan should describe how the district will increase opportunities for interracial contact between students in those districts and the district’s integration efforts at each racially identifiable school, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

Equity money is used for programs such as the one Wednesday where Holdingford Elementary School and Talahi Community School second-graders met at St. Cloud State University to mingle. Weeks before meeting at St. Cloud State, the students from Talahi and Holdingford were writing letters to one another, Holdingford Elementary teacher Marie Popp said.

The district will be required starting July 1 to spend some of the integration dollars on creating better racial balance at Talahi and Discovery elementary schools.

Talahi’s 520-student enrollment is almost 70 percent minority, compared with a 30 percent minority population districtwide, prompting the state to label it as racially isolated. About half of its students have parents who speak a primary language other than English.

Discovery Community School in Waite Park, with a 55 percent minority population, also is considered racially isolated.

The plan is not going to change the structure of Talahi but be a comprehensive plan that is part of the larger district plan, said Sebastian Witherspoon, the district’s director of equity services.

Watkins and Witherspoon said the majority of funding will be directed to Talahi and Discovery schools. Reading and math test scores at Talahi are among the lowest in the district. Discovery was forced to act on problems with student achievement in recent years.

“Some schools just don’t have the same challenges that Discovery and Talahi have,” Witherspoon said in a previous interview. “When we say district plan, (some programs) are not necessarily going to be happening within all schools.”