Growing up and getting bigger

St. Croix Prep marks 10th year from humble start

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Seventh grade students from the first graduating class of SCPA in 2004  ham around for the camera on what faculty jokingly called “Mount St. Croix.”

That start-of-school feeling is sweeping the St. Croix Valley. It means new beginnings, school supplies and some nerves for students, but for St. Croix Preparatory Academy, it’s old hat and a signal to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Started by a group of four or five founders, including SCPA Executive Director Jon Gutierrez, the school has come a long way from their first location in what is now the new U.S. Postal Service Myrtle Street office in Stillwater.

“It was a little bit of insanity,” Gutierrez said about starting the school. “But we were focused more on the mission having high expectations for academics, personal character and leadership.”

SCPA began as a kindergarten through seventh-grade school with 200 students, 20 faculty members and 10,000 square feet of space. Gutierrez said the school used Trinity Lutheran Church’s gymnasium and a playground that Gutierrez said was basically a rock hill, jokingly called Mount St. Croix by faculty members.

Over the last 10 years, the school has grown to a K-12 school with 1,150 students and 125 employees. Gutierrez said the school has 15 MSHSL-sanctioned sports teams boasting conference and state champions and a variety of clubs and groups for students. The latest addition to the school resulted in 125,000 square feet of space on 58 acres of land with a nice playground.

Over the years, SCPA has moved each school year through six different locations until settling in their current Baytown Township location in 2009. But despite the frequent moves, Gutierrez said it was worth it.

“People have asked me if this is what I envisioned, and to be honest no, this is not what I had in mind,” he said. “It really was the impetus of the parents, teachers, board and the support and desire to take it where it is today.”

Gutierrez said although the growth over the last decade has been impressive, it’s also been a challenge. The schools’ student population has increased five-fold from when SCPA began, which has changed the dynamics of how SCPA does things and the relationships they can create, he noted. He added that he doesn’t intend for the school to grow anymore from its current size.

“We like the smaller school atmosphere. It allows us to give our attention to families and kids. What we plan to do is to continue to improve what we have already and stay true to our mission,” he said. “It’s important for us to establish community. We’ve gone from being a very intimate 200 to almost 1,200 and we hope to improve the intimacy within our community through different groups like board, parent groups and student groups.”

Despite the challenges and changes, Gutierrez said the reward is what the students get out of their SCPA experience.

“It’s all about the kids for me. To see happy kids that like to go to class, that are successful in their activities is the most satisfying. To see kids and parents enjoying time at their school together and having that be a common thing throughout our community is great,” he said. “Sometimes my job is different and more difficult than what it used to be, but where I get my energy is through hanging out in classrooms with the kids. To know that we are being a good influence on them helps me through the struggles that I have.”

Although no official celebrations are scheduled yet for this year, Gutierrez said that a newsletter has sent out calls for parents and students to contribute to a time-capsule-like project allowing the community to look back at what SCPA has experienced.

“It’s been an interesting journey, and we’re getting ready for a really good year,” Gutierrez said.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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