Opposing the Twin Cities German Immersion School expansion

By Clayton Howatt

Have you ever heard a person make a serious argument to end free public education in our country? Me neither. 

That points to how ingrained our system of public education is to our identity, no matter your political affiliation. We believe in the idea that no mater your gender, race, or religion, if a child shows up at the front door of your local public school, you are welcomed. The idea that kids from different backgrounds sat in the same classroom working together became a foundation of our public education. But, can we still say that is true?

The student population of the Twin Cities German Immersion School [TCGIS] is 87 percent white and 7 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.  By comparison St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is 21 percent white and 68 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

Roseville, Minneapolis, Edina, and Minnetonka public school systems are more diverse. Even St. Paul Academy {SPA] and Cretin-Derham Hall [CDH] have twice the percentage of kids of color. TCGIS is a bastion of white affluence in the middle of a city and metropolitan area that continues to become more diverse, and they have no plan in place to serve anyone beyond who they currently serve. 

But TCGIS is a “better” school than what SPPS can offer? And is its proposed expansion a good thing for our SPPS?

TCGIS continues to boast of some of the highest Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment [MCA] scores in Minnesota. But when you compare apples to apples and look at white students only, things change. Saint Anthony Park [SAP] and Chelsea Heights outperform TCGIS in most MCA scores, in some areas by over10 percentage points. The continued growth of TCGIS also has a real and permanent impact on SPPS, it increases segregation and puts the existence of elementary schools serving some of the highest needs children at risk.

Not all of the students at TCGIS are residents of St. Paul, but many are. Most TCGIS students that live in St. Paul come from the neighborhoods of St. Anthony Park, Como Park, Midway, and Frogtown. Of those communities’ neighborhood schools only two [SAP and Chelsea Heights] have white student populations higher than the district average [21 percent]. The closest district elementary school to TCGIS is Como Elementary about four blocks away, its demographics are a stark contrast to TCGIS with it having 90 percent students of color and 77 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch. 

As white flight leaves behind schools with kids of color and concentrated poverty, we have decades of research to show what happens to those kids of color: In short, things get worse. 

We also have research as to the benefits that inure to white children when they are in an integrated school. As adults, they will have better skills to work in groups, have a deeper sense of empathy towards others, and the most importantly, less likely to be biased towards groups of people different than themselves.

 In St. Paul we have the additional problem, our district continues to lose students, which translates to lost revenue.

Starting in 2017, SPPS began to hear recommendations to close schools. One of the recommendations came from a report titled “Winning Students for SPPS” which proposed closing schools that were under-enrolled. Under-enrolled simply meaning the school enrollment was below the physical capacity of the building. Every single school highlighted was a Title I school, or high poverty. Sadly and embarrassingly, poverty and persons of color are almost interchangeable in our city. It is a tall order to get the school board to sign off on school closures, but if the current trend continues, it will be inevitable. 

Schools like Maxfield Elementary in the Rondo neighborhood, that is under 60 percent capacity, will be at risk. This is a school that has been in existence for more than 125 years and was rebuilt in its current location after the original building was demolished to make way for I-94. Or maybe it will be Jackson Elementary that is 97 percent kids of color?

Both the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP, as well as the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE), are opposed to this TCGIS expansion. From the public letter from the NAACP, the expansion of TCGIS, “will exacerbate the racial and socioeconomic segregation in the St. Paul schools”. SPFE adds, TCGIS and other charter schools, “are increasingly pulling more and more students out of the much more integrated learning environments of St. Paul Public Schools. This is increasingly draining funding from our public schools, who accept all students and when demographics are taken into consideration, outperform these charters.”

Is this the path we want to go down? Are we OK with the concept that diversity is a great idea, but just not for my family? Do we want to invest $8 million tax payer dollars to expand TCGIS while our integrated district schools face cuts year after year? 

Clayton Howatt is executive director of the Galtier Parent Organization 501c3

    13 Responses

    1. Tarek Ahmad Alkatout

      As an immigrant family with Muslim and Palestinian background, our kids not only speak fluent German and are learning both Spanish and Arabic, but are also an added fabric to the diversity of TCGIS. I hear my children sing songs from Africa, Asia and South America as part of a multicultural music program TCGIS prepares for throughout the year. We are proud of the cultural and multi-lingual exposure the school, which you so pointedly decided to attack, provides our kids. Not only were we welcomed with open arms, but we welcome any who choose to attend this public school. It really is a shame that you felt the need to knock another school. As parents, isn’t it our role to model and tool our kids to be better citizens of this world? I encourage the teachers and parents of the Galtier school community to let Clayton Howatt, their PTO president, know that he was out of line in attacking another public school!

    2. Elizabeth Tobias

      TCGIS offers a bilingual education to *all* students who enroll. This includes Special Education support offered in German. Yes, our students with IEPs (individualized plans for special education) are integrated alongside all of the other students in German and English. The majority of our Educational Assistants, the in-class SpEd support, speak German fluently.

      We have, just as every other public school has, occupational therapist, speech therapist, special education specialists, behavioral support, school psychologist, school nurse, and all of the other professionals required to support students’ learning needs. Not all of these services are provided in German, but some of those professionals either speak German already and some are learning.

      I have worked at the school as an Educational Assistant for the past 2-1/2 years. I have been a parent at the school for the past 10 years.

    3. S.B.W

      Point granted TCGIS is not as diverse as many other schools and, as an evolving & fairly young organization, could bring more attention to this issue. But this piece is shockingly extreme. Are we really supposed to believe that a couple of handfulls of students opting out of SPPS presents such a dire threats to SPPS?

    4. Tina Haarbusch

      Mr. Howatt, reading your opinion piece, I can tell that you have never visited TCGIS and don’t know very much about what TCGIS does. To help you get a more comprehensive picture, I have put together a few facts about the school. Of course you would also be welcome to visit the school and observe things first hand.

      – TCGIS is the largest German-speaking school in North America, and one of the very few public schools!
      – TCGIS is the only middle school in the country offering a German study abroad experience as part of the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP). – All TCGIS 8th graders get the chance to go to Germany and start fundraising in elementary school to make it happen!
      – More than 90% of the student body does not speak German at home and still a vast majority of the students reach a near-native proficiency which allows them to continue with a German immersion program at Central High School in St. Paul
      -TCGIS staff members are 89% bilingual (many trilingual) and have worked in all corners of the world.
      -TCGIS families come from all over the world and many of the students grow up speaking a third and/or fourth language at home. A majority of the students live in St Paul and nearby areas such as Roseville or Falcon Heights. 74 students live in District 10.
      – Students at TCGIS begin with Spanish as a third language in 7th grade – TCGIS graduates are on a path to be trilingual when leaving Middle School (pretty cool)
      – Around 30% of TCGIS staff is international and many of them have made St Paul their home
      – TCGIS has the largest German intern program in the country with more than 25 interns from all German-speaking countries supporting language learning
      every year. Interns live with host families and many of them consider Minnesota their second home. The cost of the intern program is 100% covered
      through fundraising.
      -TCGIS collaborates with many local, national and international organizations in order to offer an innovative German language education: Partners include the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota, the Concordia Language Villages, Global Minnesota, the University of St Thomas, Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network, and many German organizations in Minnesota and beyond.

      More can be found on the TCGIS website.

    5. M. Hayes

      Clayton, TCGIS is not instigating to end free public education. The issue here is a forced historic designation against the school’s will. A bastion of whiteness where minority kids don’t attend because they don’t look like other kids?? My kid attends the school, is half Asian, and doesn’t look like many other classmates. His native languages are Japanese and English. He was welcomed with open arms by the school, his classmates and their families. He also wants to go to Central after graduation. Oh, and he’s also learning German!! Now that is called diversity!!

    6. Clare Roney

      We, the PTO of the Twin Cities German Immersion School, were very disappointed to see the Park Bugle article written by Galtier Community School’s PTO President attacking our school. Similar to you Clayton, our parent volunteers work hard to support our school for our kids and the kids in the community, which makes it all the more disheartening that this attack comes from another involved parent/PTO member.

      Twin Cities German Immersion School, TCGIS, is the largest German immersion school in North America and the only German immersion school in Minnesota. TCGIS is only one of three public German immersion schools in the entire country. TCGIS not only fills a niche not available through SPPS, it fills a niche that is hardly available anywhere else in the country. Similar to the parents in SPPS seeking out Adams Spanish Immersion or L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion, our families are seeking out a German language immersion program.
      In regards to the diversity issue, we acknowledge that there is an issue and welcome any input that would help get our school’s mission to the broader population. But Clayton’s comparison of our single school demographics to the entire SPPS district is a bit disingenuous. You are comparing a sample size of 585 students to 37,000 students. Our demographics are similar to our neighborhood demographics. Please know that we welcome ALL students into our annual lottery.

      As educators, involved parents and community members, we hope that we share the same goal to increase opportunity and access for all students. Pointing fingers and making hurtful accusations is divisive and does not accomplish this goal. This is the current tone of our country, we expect better from our schools, educators and parents in our own community. Our public schools are underfunded as a whole but especially in the area of Special Education and English Language Learning. Twin Cities German Immersion School is not to blame for this nor are charter schools. Unfortunately, they become an easy target to attack instead of looking at the bureaucratic system that is to blame for a lack of appropriate funds and a deliberate effort to segregate neighborhoods, which in turn segregates schools.

      We share the same wonderful urban community, let’s work together to learn and support each other as neighbors, educators and parents.

      TCGIS PTO
      Clare Roney, Candace Davis, Catherine Radecki, Ashley Clayton, Jaime Willoughby, Sarah Robbins, Danielle Behling

    7. Carrie

      The principal of Galtier has reached out in writing to TCGIS to say that she was never consulted about this article, that it in no way reflects her views, that conversations like this which are predicated on invalidating other schools are not part of the Galtier PTO agenda, nor would she allow them to be.

    8. Anon

      I am disappointed to see this from a school representative. As residents of St. Paul we should celebrate ALL educational gains. I am especially disappointed since I (a Como Park resident) lobbied to keep Galtier open when it looked like it would be closed. I also applied for my kids to be admitted but we “lost” the lottery and didn’t get in. This is the EXACT SAME LOTTERY SYSTEM that TCGIS uses (per State Law). My kids ended up “winning” the lottery at TCGIS and we are very happy about that. “Diversity” is a smoke screen. My kids are African American. They didn’t “win” at one school but they “won” at another. The issue at hand is the historic designation of a building that the Catholic church sold 10+ years ago. They didn’t see any historic value in it and the school needs room to grow.

    9. Kallie Orlova

      There may be a lot more to TCGIS than meets the eye or that can be viewed merely by numbers. Things like the benefits of learning a second or third language from a young age, the exposure to different world views that can be experienced in immersion education and the expanded acceptance and celebration of difference. Please check out the diverse benefits of immersion education. They are numerous and benefit the entire community and the world at large. Immersion schools are an asset to our communities.

    10. Lisa Linnell

      The head of a local school’s PTO using the Park Bugle to attack another local school is repugnant. If this screed had been directed at St Anthony Park Elementary, would the Bugle have publishes it? I doubt it.

    11. Dani Nicholson

      Under Minnesota State law, charter schools are PUBLIC schools.

      “Apples to apples”? Not quite. Kids at TCGIS learn exclusively in German in their first three years of school. The begin 1-hour daily English instruction in grade 3. So, while the are comparable racially they are not comparable in the way in which they are educated.

      TCGIS is currently in its 14th year with this being the 6th in a building it owns. Cretin and Derham merged 32 years ago (each individual school established more than 100 years ago). SPA underwent a merger 50 years ago (being established more than 100 years ago). To compare demographics with century old private schools is not apples to apples.

      Did you know that upon graduating 8th grade, TCGIS students now have the opportunity to continue their German immersion education at Central High School, an SPPS school?

      TCGIS is not a racially diverse school. I agree. But over the course of its 14 year existence it’s become more diverse. And there is a desire to see that continue. Now having buses available along with before and after school care makes economic, racial, and geographic diversity more possible. Also having a permanent location encourages more people to consider the school without fear that it could move across town! Can the school do more? Sure! There are people thinking, asking questions, and desiring to find ways to encourage more diverse families to enroll in the lottery. But few things change overnight.

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