North High School
Class of 1966
North by Northside
by Jeff Skrenes
Reactions from Johnson's New North High Proposal
Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman
I'm guessing by now most everyone reading NXNS has heard Superintendent Johnson's proposal to continue with a phasing out of North High
, take a year off to develop a new model, and re-open a new North High in 2012. (although not necessarily in the same building; we'll get to that) In looking at chatter on Facebook, the Strib, and elsewhere, reactions to the plan are varied - ranging from calls for a failing school to be shut down immediately to feelings that this "plan" has nothing of substance that is different than Johnson's original proposition.
While my initial response did not embody such extremes, it was still mixed. My first thought upon hearing Johnson's new idea was, "This might be as good of a deal as we're going to get." My SECOND thought was...
..."That doesn't necessarily mean the proposal is acceptable or good enough."
Two of the most sensible things I've heard throughout this debate are from Representative Keith Ellison
and from Al Flowers. (Yes, I have been very critical of Flowers in the past, but when someone says or does something that makes sense, I'll acknowledge that too.) Ellison said that closing North High was not, in and of itself, a plan to provide quality education to our children in the Near North community. Even if closure is necessary, that action is still only PART of a plan. At another meeting, Flowers stated that we can't keep North High open just for the sake of keeping it open. There has to be a plan in place to make it successful.
Whether Johnson's current proposal has merit or not, I am at least heartened by the fact that we are now discussing plans. However, the relationship between the Minneapolis Public Schools' system and many in the north Minneapolis community is, quite frankly, badly damaged or even broken. No progress on that front was made in any way by School Board President Tom Madden, when he was quoted in the Star Tribune
as saying, "It's a failing school. Even if she changed her mind, we wouldn't get more than 20 [freshmen] there next year."
That statement was wholly inappropriate - unless of course Madden has the eerie ability to see into the future, or he's such a genius about our community and school enrollment that he can accurately predict the 2011 enrollment numbers in November of 2010. Then again, if he was that good, you'd think he'd have offered ways to keep North's attendance out of free fall over the past few years. I know if I was that skilled at coming up with accurate, yet random numbers, I'd be playing Powerball. A statement like that simply further erodes the confidence that the MPS is doing anything of substance to shore up education in our community.
The 2000 census showing that the Near North community had the highest concentration of minors/people under the age of 18. Those numbers aren't expected to shift drastically in the results of the 2010 census. So why is it that we're losing students at our community schools? The MPS has not really answered this question.
I'm also unsatisfied with Johnson's assessment of why the existing North has to be phased out, instead of working on a new model within the framework we already have in place. That being said, if the new model will truly be different, drawing students to a school with an identity that is in flux would be problematic and possibly even unfair to those incoming students.
There is no doubt that trust on both sides is at an all-time low. On the North High Facebook page, here are some of the comments left in reaction to this announcement:
"Essentially all Bernadeia has said today was that she would appoint a design team to discuss creating a 'new program' for existing North students, but no details are provided and - this is the main thing - she is still planning to prevent 8th graders from enrolling in North. This is just a little sugar coating on the poison pill so the community will resist less as they shove it down our throat.
"The purpose of this announcement, aside from demobilizing/confusing the community, is also to give a feeling of inevitability in the run up to the 9th, to tell people there is no purpose in coming out to protest. However, the fact she is compelled to make such a maneuver shows our movement is a force in the situation.
"The elections Tuesday also shifted the balance of forces in our favor. The victory of Mammon and Gagnon, the candidates who most publicly associated with the Save North High efforts, shows the mood of the entire electorate on this. The solid defeat of T Williams, the only incumbent, shows the public distrust of the existing Board. We have to sharply object to any big decision being made by this lame-duck Board of Education, who clearly do NOT represent the voters or the community at this stage. We must demand they put the vote off at least until the new Board is seated in January. Any decision taken before then lacks legitimacy and should not be respected or acknowledged by the community." - Teddy Shibabaw
"The school board already admitted that they had 'failed to provide an equitable education' under their 'old programs.' We should have NO FAITH in any 'new program' that they put forward unless they fully adopt the communities (sic) program....
"Our Program: (editorial note: I'm not aware of any formal process under which this program has received support. It may or may not be reflective of what the community wants. Many of these points, however, have been discussed at community meetings about how to save North High.)
* Withdraw the proposal to close North High and commit to re-investment in the school
* Reverse the decision to open two 'Minneapolis College Prep' charter high schools
* Re-establish a 'home zone' for North High to boost enrollment
* In partnership with parents, teachers, and students, develop an aggressive, fully-funded plan to boost enrollment at North High
* Support the efforts of North teachers, parents, and students to address academic and enrollment concerns by re-organizing North as a democratically managed community school." - Nick Shillingford
"Superintendent Johnson has not changed her position and still plans to close North High! All she added yesterday was, she'll get a group together to keep talking as she locks the doors on North. Everyone needs to still show up at the Board on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and tell them this is not acceptable!" - Robert Panning-Miller
The most important reaction, from my perspective, should come from the current students of North High. One student, sophomore Gwendolyn Kinsman, has been at many of the meetings and events surrounding the recent proposals, and had this to say to the Star Tribune: "It was a great school before the district interfered and things got, in their words, 'terrible." Now they're interfering again. Things can only get worse."
In spite of the deep, and quite possibly deserved, mistrust at many levels, the School Board, North High, and community stakeholders will have to come together to engage in a serious, constructive dialogue about what quality education in north Minneapolis is going to look like. This proposal, no matter how poorly or well constructed, is an important step in that discussion.
Posted by The Hawthorne Hawkman
MPS Reasons for Closing North High
Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from Minnesota Public Radio.
At Monday evening's community forum about the future of North High, the Minneapolis Public School board passed out a sheet that outlined their reasoning (or lack thereof) for proposing the closure of North High School. However, in the interest of placing this document in a forum where people can comment openly or anonymously on the validity of the proposal and how it will impact our children and our community, I am re-posting it on North by Northside.
I do encourage everyone who comments here to forward their comments to Ms. Johnson and all school board members (and before the election, also to the candidates).
Here, without any further editorial commentary on my part, is the document in question:
Frequently Asked Questions | North High SchoolUpdated October 18, 2010
Why is North being recommended to phase out?
Many factors led to the recommendation, but the bottom line is this:
the school district has not successfully transformed the academic program for the students and as a result the achievement is extremely low. Families are making other choices – suburban schools, charters and other Minneapolis area high schools.
Approximately 265 students currently attend North, 75 percent fewer than just six years ago. North’s total enrollment is less than that of just the ninth grade class at all but one of the other Minneapolis comprehensive high schools.
With so few students, the superintendent believes the school cannot continue to provide an equitable education that will put students on the path to college and workforce readiness.Did the decision to make North a citywide program have an adverse impact on enrollment?
It may have; however, this is the first year that the citywide program boundaries have been in effect. North’s enrollment has been steadily declining for a decade, with the biggest loss of enrollment – almost 350 students – occurring in 2006.
The intent of the citywide boundary was to allow as many students as possible to choose North, not to draw a boundary that would deny attendance to some students.What happened to the Specialty School Program?
In 2008, we announced that North would become the first small specialty school in Minneapolis. A specialty school is similar to a magnet program, meaning it is designed around a specific academic focus. It enrolls fewer students than the traditional high school and draws from a citywide attendance area.
|We envisioned a focused and personal school of choice that maintained an enrollment of about 500 students. Given the tradition of success with Summatech, the plan called for building a strong science, technology, engineering and math focus under the umbrella of the academically challenging International Baccalaureate program.|
North achieved full IB status in 2010 and is currently one of only 10 schools worldwide where students can earn the IB career certificate.
Why “throw in the towel” now? You mentioned the mistakes so why not do better?
This is a tough decision, but it is the right one. We have waited as long as we can and tried several approaches dating back to 2002 to improve the academic program. Waiting longer would not be in the best interest of the students. They are not getting the full high school program that is available at our other high schools.
Why were North’s feeder schools taken away?
Schools were closed because MPS failed to transform the academic programs and as a result, families were choosing other options that they believed would give their children the best possible education.
MPS enrollment was growing at a rate of about 1,000 students a year in the mid-1990s. To handle the enrollment increases, MPS invested in five state-of-the-art facilities on the north side: W. Harry Davis, Lucy Craft Laney, Jordan Park, Cityview and Nellie Stone Johnson. These five schools increased capacity on the north side by 4,650 seats.
At the same time the school district was opening new schools, school choice options were increasing dramatically. The number of charter schools increased in the early 2000s and the state’s Choice is Yours program took effect in 2001 (the result of a NAACP lawsuit brought against the state for failing to provide an adequate education to students in Minneapolis). As a result, the North side lost almost 3,000 K-8 grade students in four years (1999-2003). Between 2004 and 2008, enrollment district-wide declined by another 5,000 students.
Willard and Franklin, closed in 2005. W. Harry Davis (now home to special education programs), Jordan Park (now home to Hmong International Academy), Lincoln, North Star (now home to early childhood programs) and Shingle Creek closed in 2007.
Afrocentric Academy was moved into North in 2006 to establish a built-in feeder for the high school. Afrocentric closed after the 2008-09 school year because so few families chose the program resulting in low enrollment.
More recently, the enrollment decline has slowed and enrollment district-wide is stabilizing and even growing slightly at the elementary school level. High school enrollment is expected to stabilize in 2014.
There are currently 5 K-8 schools on the north side and all are considered possible feeder schools for North. Additionally, the district included North as a citywide option in recruitment materials distributed to 8th graders around the city, and targeted for recruitment 8th graders at charter schools that have a math/science focus.
Why was North left out of the recruitment materials last year?
North was not left out. North had a full page in the School Choice Guide, like all high schools, plus a mention on the back page of the guide since North is a citywide option and available to all students. North also had its own brochure, just like the six other comprehensive high schools.
Why didn’t the district promote North as aggressively as other high schools?
North has received more central marketing and promotional funds than other high schools. More than 100 eighth grade students from area math/science-focused charter schools attended a school tour of North last spring, which was arranged by the district’s Student Placement Services.
North was also included in several community newspaper ads in spring 2010 announcing the International Baccalaureate certification of schools.
|The community and alumni association have partnered with the district over the past six months with a goal of recruiting 100 ninth graders. Groups have done outreach at community events and door-knocking activities over the summer. Unfortunately, these recruitment efforts have not attracted any additional students to the school.|
Where are students choosing to attend school?
Open Enrollment: 400 high school students from the north side opt out of Minneapolis through open enrollment; 221 of those leave through the state’s Choice is Yours program, which provides free transportation to and from the suburban school of their choice.
Charters: In the 2009-10 school year, more than 2,000 Minneapolis high school-age students attended charter schools. Although we do not know precisely where these students live, we do know that the largest enrollment loss to charters has occurred on the north side.
(A chart is on the link, which is difficult to re-create in the blogger format, so one column will be in blue text and the other in red.)
Minneapolis High School, Contract Alternative or Alternative School
Number of North Side Students Enrolled
Patrick Henry High School
Edison High School
North High School
Southwest High School
Transition Plus (18-21 yr olds)
Plymouth Youth Center
Roosevelt High School
Washburn High School
Broadway Arts & Tech
Harrison Education Center
Other (contract alternatives and alternative schools)
How many students do you need in a high school for it to be considered a comprehensive high school?
North’s “specialty” school status was gauged at needing at least 500 students to maintain the programming and staffing required for a well-rounded high school experience. The other comprehensive high schools in Minneapolis have between 900 and 1,900 students.
What about downsizing other schools and reassigning students to North so that all of the district's schools can be equitable?
We live in an era of choice; families and students have come to expect options. Reassigning students district-wide and forcing them to attend a specific school is unrealistic and goes against the principles of parent choice, which the district strongly supports.
With the new leadership now in place, why can’t the school be given more time?
Principal Birch Jones has been a respected and admired leader for years in MPS and he knows the school well. However, he returned as a transitional principal, coming out of retirement to lead the school for one year until a permanent principal could be found.
What can we do now? Can we do a district-wide letter asking kids to voluntarily come back to North?
Promotional and recruitment efforts on the part of the school and community may occur. However, it is the quality of the academic program that ultimately attracts and retains students. The fact is the schools academic proficiency continues to be the lowest among high schools in the city with only 26 percent of students proficient in reading, 8 percent in math and 4 percent in science.
What about the other programs in the building?
There are several programs now operating in the school – TAPP for our pregnant and parenting teens, Dunwoody Academy charter school, Adult Basic Education (ABE) and KBEM radio station. These are valued programs and we are carefully considering all of their needs in our plans.
ABE will be moving into the new MPS Educational Service Center at 1250 West Broadway when it opens in fall 2012.
Why does it cost more to operate North than other high schools?
Because there are so few students in a building designed for 1,700, the operational costs, including utilities, janitorial, maintenance, school leadership, office staff, nursing and IT support, total $3,970 per student at North. The average cost at high schools in Minneapolis is $1,555. (Note: The press has reported this as, “It costs $4,000 more per student to operate North.” The cost is actually $2,415 more per student than the high school average.)
Why hasn’t the district invested in North?
In 2010-11, North received the second highest per pupil allocation of all the high schools, at $12,438 per pupil. The highest allocation goes to Edison, at $12,618. The lowest allocation per pupil goes to Southwest, at $4,656.
Amounts vary based on a how many of the school’s students qualify for free/reduced lunch (a measure of poverty), services for non-English speaking students and other factors.
Why is the district privatizing public schools?
Charter schools are public schools. (Bold and italics emphasis in original document) The district is actively seeking out new school models that have track records of success with teaching students of color and those who live in poverty.
The Minneapolis School Board has approved three new schools to open in 2011, including Minneapolis College Prep (MCP), which will open in north Minneapolis.
|MCP is open to all students and will serve all students, regardless of ability, disability or status. It is non-sectarian. It is tuition-free and publicly funded.|
MCP is fully accountable to the public. MCP was approved, is overseen by, will report to and eventually must be re-approved by the democratically-elected Minneapolis Board of Education.
Under Minnesota law (124D.10), MCP and public charter schools are public schools and must report to the Minneapolis Public Schools; to the State of Minnesota; to their students, parents and board and to the public in general on their academic, operational and financial status and progress as much as or more than traditional public schools.
Their charter school boards are non-profit organizations and the groups they have hired to help them operate the schools are non-profits, too. These are not for-profit school management organizations from the 1990s.
The publicly-elected Minneapolis Board of Education unanimously voted to approve MCP because of the proven track record of its partner and model, The Noble Network in Chicago. Over the last 11 years, the Noble model has proven successful: 99 percent of seniors graduate, 96 percent of graduates go to college and 83 percent of those are the first in their family to do so. Ninety percent of its students are eligible for free and reduced lunch and 98 percent are students of color.
Minneapolis College Prep will open for grade nine and will phase in a grade each year. While the location is still under review, we know it will be on the north side.
Several district and north side community members have visited the program in Chicago and all have come away with a sense of hope and excitement because they have seen how well the school works for students.
Won’t MCP lead to increased segregation of students, because they will “cherry-pick” students?
MCP and Minneapolis Public Schools are both committed to ensuring that MCP welcomes and embraces the full diversity of north Minneapolis students, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, English language status and ability or disability. MCP anticipates that its enrollment will broadly reflect the student population of north Minneapolis. MCP is committed to not “cherry-picking” its students, Minnesota law prohibits MCP from doing so and Minneapolis Public Schools will make sure that MCP keeps its promises.
If this is only a recommendation, why does it seem like it’s too late to “save North?”
The superintendent’s formal recommendation to phase out a school is a last-resort decision and it is not made lightly. Superintendent Johnson has carefully weighed the options and believes that phasing out the ninth grade, while painful, is in the best interest of the students.
The recommendation will go to the Board for a vote on November 9, 2010.
Why did the district give North three new principals in a row?
School and community members were on the interview committees and participated in the selection of each of North’s principals over the years. High school principals must be exceptional instructional leaders, but they also must be able to connect with the entire school community. The school staff and community played a role in selecting the kind of leader they felt would be best for the school.
What would happen to the trophies and yearbooks from the school?
We would be open to working with the alumni association and Friends of North Foundation on a solution for housing the trophies. We have had requests over the years from closed high schools like Central and Marshall about displaying trophies at reunions and other events.
With respect to yearbooks, we would work with alumni association or possibly the historical society or branch of the library to house them.
Posted by The Hawthorne Hawkman
|On Saturday, October 16, Mel Reeves, Pastor Brian Herron, and representatives of PEJAM, Friends of North High, and the North High Alumni Association led a community forum on what can be done to keep this community asset open. Herron opened with a stirring invocation, and Reeves spoke about how school board members removed everything that made North High attractive. The removal of the "home zone" and feeder schools was especially damning.|
Reeves and Herron rightly pointed out that this is not just about current or future students, but the community as a whole. Nobody is going to make a significant investment in a community without a school - not potential homeowners, nor businesses or employers. But the level of commitment goes both ways. "It's asinine to save a school if you're not going to support it," Reeves said. This means that the community has to work together on solutions, AND parents have to be committed to sending their children to the school.
Marcus Owens, a '99 graduate and member of the Friends of North High said that the school board's only plan was to close North High, and that they were not prepared for the 100-150 people that filled the last board meeting beyond capacity. We need to build on that momentum by bringing even more community support. But such support alone won't be sufficient without a plan, which is why PEJAM proposed......the following five points:
1. Vote down or withdraw the proposal to close North High School.
2. Reverse the decision to open two "Minneapolis College Prep" charter high schools.
3. Re-establish a "home zone" to boost enrollment at North High School.
4. In partnership with parents, teachers, and students, develop an aggressive, fully-funded plan to boost enrollment at North.
5. Immediately open a dialogue with North teachers proposing an innovative "self-managed" school model.
(Hawkman interjects: Not sure what that last one is or how it would be beneficial, but I admit to being new to the education discussion.)
PEJAM workers stated that both RT Rybak and Barb Johnson support the closure of North High, and "I think we all know what Don Samuels' stance is." I'll say this much about those three: I'm generally supportive of Rybak and Johnson, and I know Don Samuels rather well. He and Sondra are two of my favorite people and I'm proud to count them as friends. But that doesn't mean I will wind up agreeing with those folks or anyone else on every single issue. And to the extent they support the closure of North High, I believe they are wrong here.
We then moved into a serious discussion about what solutions could be employed to keep North open. The group agreed we need more data - such as comparisons of test results from North to other high schools and charter schools, and what the additional cost on other high schools would be if North were to close. Students, alumni, and teachers have to be organized. We have the support of many teachers at South and Southwest, and the only question is how to best use that. Another community member said this is not a budget question but a priority question, and perhaps we should frame it that way.
Furthermore, charter schools are not necessarily all that they are cracked up to be. "There is no Chicago Miracle" regarding charter schools, one participant said. Many such schools run deficits, don't have measurably higher test scores, and are less accountable than public schools.
Al Flowers also passed out a proposal, like he did at the rally before the school board meeting. He claims this proposal is not his, but just one that has been shared with him. I may print or post that document in its entirety soon. However, the coalition has not yet come up with a series of demands beyond the five laid out above. In the interest of keeping a simple and unified message for the time being, I'll leave those proposals for another time.
The meeting broke up into several focus groups: Enrollment, achievement gap, and student behavior. The area in which I felt I could offer the most was enrollment, so that's where I wound up.
In that small group, we discussed approaching enrollment from a marketing standpoint. What will it take to make North High appealing to those who are not yet attending? And what impressions do students have when they enter the school? A '99 grad said it was the KBEM radio program that attracted him to the school, and that we should build off of the strengths that a full-fledged music program could offer. Such a program wouldn't just focus on playing or composing, but also on the economic side of the industry and technical aspects as well.
|Another parent of graduates said that we should get rid of the fence around the school, as that creates a prison mentality and is very unappealing.|
Once again, the closure of North High MUST be taken off the table for the immediate future. After all, what reasonable parent would send their child to a school if there was no guarantee that the school would even exist by the time he or she graduated? We simply cannot rebuild the enrollment with a looming threat of closure. Likewise, a home zone needs to be re-established in order to build up community attendance at the school.
The one idea I had that others hadn't articulated was this: right now, North High has the spotlight. It's unfortunate that closure is even being discussed, but that means we have a captive audience - many of whom are unfamiliar with North High. If we're approaching the enrollment issue as a marketing strategy, then now is the perfect time to show off the positive elements of our school. A mother spoke of how her son was playing college football that day, on a full scholarship to Gustavus Adolphus. You don't get in to that school unless you're smart. So let's show off the honors and AP classes available at North. Let's have our seniors and alumni talk - to the mainstream media, to blogs, or even just on youtube to start - about where they are headed after graduation and why North High has prepared them for their next stage in life.
Parents have to have confidence not only that the school won't close, but that their child will be able to fully realize his or her potential at their high school. Now is the time to show how that can happen at North High.
A prior engagement kept me from being able to stay and hear what the other focus groups had to offer.
There will be a press conference on Monday (technically today, as this will post after midnight), at 5:30 at the marquee at North High. Come and show your support!
Congressman Keith Ellison on North High School
Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Keith Ellison Wikipedia page.
Over 250 people gathered at the North High School auditorium tonight to voice their support for keeping the high school open. Minneapolis superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and six school board members were on hand to (hopefully) listen. More posts are sure to follow, but here are Congressman Ellison's words regarding North High: Click Here
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