Astein Osei said he often wakes up in the morning thinking that he made the right decision to take the position of St. Louis Park School District superintendent.
“It doesn’t hurt that it’s a two-minute commute to work,” said Osei, who has lived in St. Louis Park for more than five years.
He thanked former Supt. Rob Metz for discussing the details of district strategies with him.
“He was so kind and gracious with his time in helping with the transition,” Osei said of Metz, who retired from the district at the end of June to work for an educational nonprofit. “I feel it’s going well because of the time he spent with me before he left.”
Osei has been busy moving into his office as well as preparing the district for the upcoming school year.
“You want to make sure everything’s in place from a curriculum standpoint so you can meet the needs to create the best learning environment for students,” Osei said.
He said he is focused on closing educational gaps that he said have long plagued the country.
“What are we going to do to be intentional to meet each child’s needs?” Osei asked while sitting at a small table in his office near posters of St. Louis Park students that read “Building Champions For Life” and a photograph of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.
Osei pointed to the district’s strategic plan, which calls for the district to align instruction, curriculum and assessment in a culturally relevant manner, develop and support all employees, collaborate with diverse communities and ensure that district facilities meet the needs of learners and the community. The plan also details a list of 10 district core values, leading off with “Everyone has equal intrinsic worth” and “We will enhance the healthy development of each learner by engaging and supporting families and communities.”
The plan helped convince him to leave his position as assistant superintendent at Osseo Area Schools.
“I had an amazing experience there,” Osei said. “It was a great place, and the school district was doing the work I was passionate about.”
He indicated he would not have left Osseo Area Schools to go to a district with values that did not match up with his own.
When considering the St. Louis Park School District’s core values, Osei remarked, “I said, ‘These things align with who I am.’”
He added, “St. Louis Park Public Schools is doing great work, and it’s just about how we can accelerate that growth and close the gaps. Everything I hear about the school district is super positive, and I just hope to add to the work that’s been started and keep it moving forward.”
Since accepting his new role, Osei has continued to build connections in the community. Living in St. Louis Park has allowed him to strike up conversations while shopping with people about their experiences with the district. He also attended a St. Louis Park iftar, a meal conducted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, to learn more about Islam.
In an example of community-building close to home, Osei praised the Birchwood Neighborhood’s annual summer picnic.
“This is a great place to live,” Osei said. “This is how a community should feel like. It was people of all different races, genders. It was phenomenal.”
He compared the support Birchwood Neighborhood residents have for each other to the support residents throughout the St. Louis Park School District have for the schools, despite many living in households without children.
“That in many ways magnifies how impressive this community is and why it’s a great place to live and work,” Osei said.
He and other district officials are hoping that voters in the city continue to show their support for the district during a bond referendum this fall. The district will ask voters to approve a $100.9 million bond issue that would pay for more classrooms, maintenance and a variety of other facility upgrades at St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park Middle School and Central Community Center in particular. Park Spanish Immersion School would move from Central to a remodeled Cedar Manor Community Center while the district office would move eventually from St. Louis Park High School to Central.
“We have aging facilities,” Osei said. “The staff have done a great job maintaining them to the best of their abilities, but the buildings are aging and aren’t really keeping up with a 21st Century learning environment.”
Osei said he will work to help communicate the ways in which a successful referendum would help further the district’s mission.
“We need to continue to be forward-thinking and make sure we have the facilities to allow our students to be successful and thrive at high levels,” Osei said.
In recent years, the St. Louis Park School District has experienced an increasing enrollment. The district added on to its traditional elementary schools but has faced challenges in ensuring adequate space exists for students in the middle school and high school.
“We need to do some things around space for our students who are coming here every day to make sure the environment is appropriate,” Osei said.
He added that the increasing enrollment is a good indicator for the district, though.
“We see we have more young families moving in,” Osei said. “It speaks to the great education that students are receiving here.”