From Webster Magnet to Obama Prep: a tale of race & achievement

One of the things I learned while covering the new St. Paul schools plan was that Obama Elementary (more formally known as Michelle and Barack Obama Service Learning Elementary) is planning to revamp along the lines of a Minneapolis charter school with an Afrocentric focus. Obama Elementary is 75 percent black, and 4 percent white.

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For anyone who knows St. Paul history, this is an amazing story.

St. Paulites will recognize Obama Elementary as the old Webster Magnet, an integrated, enrichment magnet that was wildly popular in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

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What happened?

I spent a few months scouring the history of Webster Magnet, finding people like 1991 Teacher of the Year Rhoda Stroud, who knew it well and could describe what happened from the inside.

(There’s also delicious tape from the MPR Archives when Garrision Keillor did a live 2-hour broadcast from the school in 1981)

I also spent time with Obama Principal Adrain Pendelton as she works to redesign her school and zero in on what her students — largely African American — need to succeed.

Before Webster became a magnet, it was 75 percent black, the same as Obama Elementary is today. But the solutions for best serving these students couldn’t be more different.

Check out the story for an interesting tale of St. Paul’s four-decade struggle over race and achievement through the lens of one school.

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