Freshmen set record for largest incoming class at 112 students

Thirty-three new students accepted their admission to St. Paul Academy and Summit School, enrolling in the Class of 2017, but none by so thin a margin as freshman Lauren Boettcher.

“I only committed to SPA four days before orientation,” she said.

Behind Boettcher’s protracted indecision, there was a difficult choice for her to make. She could opt for her local East Duluth High School, or attend SPA, roughly 150 miles from home. The latter option meant moving to St. Paul alone, where she stays with the family of sophomore Andrea Olson.

It took the double promise of strong academics and a competitive hockey program to merit such a sacrifice.

“I chose SPA because I knew a few people, and my coach really wanted me to. I wanted to go because the academics are so much better than where I’m from, and it was a better opportunity for me to go to a competitive school and play competitive hockey,” Boettcher explained.

While Boettcher’s decision is likely unmatched in terms of sheer improbability, it is archetypical of the factors behind the unprecedented size of the freshman class – 112 students.

Like most private schools or universities, SPA over-admits, predicting that a certain proportion of the potential students will chose to go somewhere else. This year, not many did.

Freshman Spencer Allen chose SPA over Henry Sibley High School and Stillwater High School, both closer to his home.

Explaining his decision, Allen cited a “family component” –his brother Connor Allen is enrolled in the senior class.

However, he added that a large part of his decision came from the quality of education at SPA.

“The academics at SPA are just so much stronger,” Allen said.

Freshman David Santos, who has attended SPA since middle school, explained why he believes SPA is such an appealing choice.

“[It’s] because of the small individual class sizes. Some school may have five hundred kids in a grade which often leads to less attention from a teacher. But SPA provides students with lots of study halls where students can meet with teachers,” Santos said.

Principal Chris Hughes outlines some of the logistical issues presented by the rapid growth of the Upper School.

“Our class sizes are a little bit bigger than they have been- 15, 16 students as opposed to 13 or 14 for a general class,” Hughes said. “Electives are also really full just because of the new schedule.”

However, measures such as adding an additional period for debate helped the administration meet the demand for electives, which resulted largely from the additional period included in the new schedule.

While the SPA community can take pride in the school’s broad appeal, the unprecedented influx of freshmen, combined with the already expanding Upper School threatens to cause a crisis of overcrowding. Hughes explains some of the steps taken by the administration to conserve room.

“We tried to grab back space wherever we could… one thing we’re doing differently this year is really utilizing the 4th floor for classes to meet.”

According to Hughes, a storage closet in the upper west corridor was converted into an advisory space, and Room 222, formerly used for senior electives is now open for students to study.

“You’ve seen the library’s been reorganized, study hall’s moved into the library so that frees up the lecture room. So until we get to new buildings around here that’s the best we can do,” Hughes said.

SPA’s prestige was certainly a factor in drawing such a large proportion of the admitted freshmen, but the school’s attraction goes deeper than that. Boettcher noticed something out of the ordinary during her first visit.

“Everyone was there to learn, which was something I’d never seen at a school before. And above that, everyone was at least respectful of each other,” she said. ”That was something that was also really important to me.”