Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mullanphy School

Mullanphy School, or Mullanphy Investigative Learning Center as it is currently referred to by the school system, is an elementary magnet school within the St. Louis Public School System.  The school is housed in a beautiful building designed by renowned architect William B. Ittner.  The school has been located at 4221 Shaw Boulevard in the beautiful Shaw Neighborhood since 1915.

The school takes its name from Bryan Mullanphy (1809 - 1851) who was the son of John Mullanphy an Irish immigrant who became a wealthy merchant in St. Louis and in Baltimore. Mullanphy was an important philanthropist in the fledgling St. Louis community, and his son Bryan Mullanphy became the tenth mayor of St. Louis serving from 1847 - 1848 as an independent.  (source)

Mullanphy School is another example of the pride and thought that was put into public education in the 19th and early 20th Centuries in St. Louis.  Compare and contrast the ways the typical modern suburban cities in the region place on design, building materials and overall feel of their schools.  Here's an example from just across the river:

The above school template is not unique to Columbia, this is the modern paradigm for contemporary public schools.  Do the architects inscribe their name(s) on a cornerstone of such places?  They did in St. Louis.

Luckily for St. Louis, in the majority of cases, the schools were built to be special places and part of the neighborhood.  They fit in and have a sense of place.  They still stand today and many are still in good use and are even being invested in for the future.  Mullanphy School is an example where recently enacted "Proposition S" brought investment in the form of new windows, sun shades, new kitchen equipment and new playgrounds.  The school has central A/C.

Here are some photos of Mullanphy and the grounds which are used for small gardens and composting exhibitions in the spring through autumn months:

 slate walkways provide a path through the natural landscape and small gardens

the natural landscape compliments the front entryway

the grounds surrounding the school are actively used 

Mullanphy is visible from I-44 and the recently installed new windows are highly visible.  Are these the cheapest windows money can buy?  No, they function as per the original wood windows did; meaning many of them open:

To learn a little more about Mullanphy, I visited with Cara Jensen, mother of two children who have attended the school and are now at or heading to McKinley Classical Leadership Academy for middle and high school.  I met the Jensens through St. Margaret of Scotland soccer.  Ryan, Cara's husband, is an assistant coach and our sons are on the same team.

The Jensens are not from St. Louis, they hale from Iowa and Minnesota and met at Iowa State University.  They both value education and are great parents.  They chose the SLPS for their kids and here is their story.

The Jensen's moved to St. Louis 12 years ago and live in the magnificent Shaw neighborhood, both value public education and they researched their options when their kids neared pre-school age.  They got a slot at Kennard Classical Junior Academy as well, but chose Mullanphy mainly due to the fact that they wanted their kids to go to a school that reflected the diversity of their neighborhood.  Mullanphy was also in close proximity to their home so their kids would be able to walk to school...a major fringe benefit.  Mullanphy also has gifted student pull out classes, so it was the right fit for them.

Mullanphy is a magnet school within the St. Louis Public School System.  A guide to magnet schools if provided by the SLPS here.
What is a magnet you may ask?
Students ordinarily go to the public school nearest them.  Magnet schools are public schools without school boundaries.  Each has something unique to offer that you won't find in traditional schools, whether it's a particular focus on technology or the arts, or a stimulating curriculum designed especially for gifted students.  St. Louis Magnet School programs welcome eligible students from St. Louis County to help increase diversity in the public school system.  Because of high demand, admission is based on a lottery system.
One component of admission is race.  This is based on a de-segregation policy from the mid/late 20th Century that was clearly needed at the time when it was determined that black kids didn't have access to the same opportunities in public schools.  So, depending on the racial makeup of the applicants, you may or may not have the odds in your favor.  For instance, if you are trying to attend Kennard, a popular gifted program, and you are white, you will be on a long waiting list.  If you are black, you will get in much easier.  The opposite is true at Mullanphy where white kids are the numerical minority, so the waiting list is shorter.  There is still a lottery, but the idea is to racially balance the magnet schools to match the overall racial makeup of the city (nearly 50/50 black/white).

As of  2011, the student body was:
59% male
41% female

72% black
18% white
6% Hispanic/Latino
3% Asian

72% eligible for reduced or free lunch (source)

The Jensen's have been very happy with their choice to send both of their children through Mullanphy from K-5th grades.  When asked to rank the following on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, they assigned the following:

Safety = 5, teachers = 8, principal = 10 (they highly praised the current leader), curriculum = 8, physical resources = 5

Why the average grade on physical resources?  Funds are tight, and not all kids have their own copies of books, etc and are required to share certain resources.  And on safety, the 5 was indicated as "average safety" in that all schools are potentially unsafe.  Basing the rank on how quickly repairs are made, bathrooms cleaned, etc. they graded it as average (5).  In today's society where there is a wide spectrum of education quality across the nation, the Jensens claimed that they feel they are getting the education that the majority of American kids are getting in the current funding/educational climate.  I think that is well said, and sums it up quite nicely.

They mentioned that there are enrichment course available.  There is an art program, and there are gifted "pull out courses" where if your child tests high in math or science, they can get extra instruction in those areas.  Funding is a challenge here as well, as gifted pull outs are down to 1 day per week and being honed down to science only.  This is a reflection of overall funding available across the district.

Mullanphy offers extra-curricular activities including scouting, but there are no sports teams.  However, Mullanphy is also a full service community services center in addition to being a school.  This means there are before and after school programs that run until 9:00 p.m. most days.  These activities are open to Mullanphy students and the population at large and includes Stray Dog Theatre acting classes, Washington University holds a "books to basketball" program where university students tutor kids and then play ball in the gym.  There is an organized community basketball league as well.

Some of the negatives brought up were lower than ideal parental involvement, systemic political corruption and corporate privatization.  They say funding cuts have hurt most of all.

The Jensen's are overall very positive in their experience and would definitely recommend Mullanphy to other families.

Mullanphy is a safe, viable option for public education in the city.  Please consider all your options, educate yourself, talk to people and parents, visit schools before vacating the city for suburban districts.

To apply for Mullanphy Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade enrollment in 2013/14, click here.


  1. It is my understanding that this school was named for Bryan Mullanphy. It is carved on the pediment in one of your photos. Bryan is a most beloved St. Louisan for 2oo years. He is also a favorite of mine

  2. ^Thanks Brian S, you are 100% correct, and I knew that and had it corrected at one point. I made the change...thanks again

  3. "Political corruption and corporate privatization" These go hand in hand with the efforts of more than a few pols and their corporate-school (ie, charter school) Masters. There is nothing in American schools that can't be solved by a more equitable and just society. Charter schools are mostly run by corporate entities, which are only interested in profit, no education. Just like all of the other efforts at privatizing public works and public accommodations are basically efforts to impoverish our society, and transfer the wealth we have built to the already criminally wealthy. And specifically, in the case of SLPS, the bloated bureaucracy at SLPS HQ could stand a big slice of trimming.

    Anywho...Very cool that they installed pivoting windows in the same locations as the originals. Handsome building all around.

  4. I attended BM 1955-1958; K-2nd grade. Beautiful old building but the front terraces were all grass. There was a big merry-go-round in back near Detonty, and I seem to remember a house by itself in the corner of Shaw and Tower Grove. Kindergarden on the first floor with those big window overlooking a wide and deep moat, 1st in a room in the basement and 2nd on the top floor.

    Did Shaw have 4 lanes back then? It seemed then, to me to be much wider than Russell (where I lived) or Castleman.

  5. Great article! I went to Mullanphy from 1977-1984 and I lived on the 4200 block of Castleman Ave. for 12 years and spent many days playing in the school yard. Mullanphy was a huge part of my childhood. I still drive by the school when I'm back home.
    I saw many changes in the school, from type, to new buildings, to even a fire that damaged a first floor classroom. Lots of memories there for me...

  6. Many great memories of that school. I went there 'til Jan '58. It was K-8 in those days. Both homes i lived in are now under hwy 44 (Corner of DeTonty and Tower Grove and corner of LaFayette and Tower Grove.) What a shame all that's happened in the last 45 years or so. Remember driving down 44 and seeing all the burned out, boarded up homes of old friends, on both sides of the highway.At least the school has survived. Couldn't play on those school yards today, like we use to do, however.

  7. Ronald Hudgens, thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. The Shaw neighborhood and even Botanical Heights (formerly McKree town) has never looked better in my 21 years living in St. Louis. There are construction dumpsters lining Shaw Blvd from Kingshighway to Grand. Rehabbing investment is booming, St. Margaret's is adding a new middle school, UIC is building fantastic modern homes called Botanical Grove...DeTonty, Shaw and many other streets in the area are better than ever.

  8. I attended this school in 1986 in the 8th grade. Back then, it was disorganized and violent. I love St. Louis, and the history and elegance of this neighborhood. The Shawn Botanical gardens are a treasure to the community. I am very happy to see how this neighborhood and school have been re-vitalized and are thriving. When I look at the STL school district webpages, and the effort that has put into making these excellent schools, I am very pleased. It was not so in 1986.

  9. My Mother and all 6 of her sisters attended Mullanphy, and also all 4 of her daughters. My grandparents raised 7 daughters living at 4250 Shaw, right next to Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. I had the same 6th grade teacher my mother had.

  10. Connie Dotson FordeJuly 21, 2016 at 6:10 AM

    I attended Mullanphy School beginning in Kindergarten and graduated from 8th grade in June of 1952. Back then you could start in January or September, depending on your birthday. Each grade was divided - six low or six high, etc. If you started in January, you graduated in January - if you started in September, you graduated in June. I started in January but there were so many post war babies coming in by the time I reached third grade, they promoted the top percentage of our class one half year. Therefore, I got to graduate in June.
    I lived on the 4200nd block of Castleman Avenue all during that time - many pleasant memories growing up there.