The potential of North High closing has stirred up emotions in an unexpected way. I was very well aware of the low enrollment and the many challenges North has faced over the last several years. Last year, I met and spoke with several staff and leadership at North after they received notice that they were facing consequences due to the school being identified as a persistently low performing school. The consequences included four choices; two of the choices meant significant turnover in staff and one was for the school to close. We talked strategy and the decision was made to turnover staff at the school.
This year I attended the open house for incoming students and the auditorium was fuller than expected with many supportive community members in attendance to welcome in the freshman students, all 47 of them. Again, another sign that North was in serious trouble. Despite the warning signs and my understanding that North closing was a real possibility, the superintendents announcement and recommendation to phase out North High and close it in three years was met with a heavy heart.
I am a fourth generation graduate of North High, the class of 1989. North High is a mixture of memories of my favorite teachers, Ms Gregory, the librarian who recommended more books than I will ever remember, Brownie Lake field trips, basketball games, and where I met some very dear friends. My late Uncle Richard Green was both a teacher and principal there, it is part of my family history. It is a place that is close to my heart and holds many memories for me, my family and my friends.
The personal memories and my commitment to improve outcomes for all students have met head on. The fact is North High School represents “community” and is a school that connects many of us in Minneapolis. This connection is what makes a strong community school, the connection and the love for North is an unspoken- underestimated factor. The loyalty to North seems to have tipped the scale towards blind loyalty- and we have collectively failed the students and families in North Minneapolis. The same loyalty and commitment if directed and focused could create a stronger school and better academic results.
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This recommendation came as a result of years of disinvestment and an overall lack of accountability and leadership. Currently, there are 267 students attending North High school. There are fiscal realities that must be addressed and waiting too long without a solid and sustainable solution is a risk that would impact the entire district. I understand why superintendent Johnson made a recommendation. I do not agree with how it was communicated and I do not believe closing North is a solution that should be made without community input and without a comprehensive plan for families. In addition, the first publicized effort to “fix” North should not have been to close it and as a result it has kicked up a large community debate and response.
I have a sensitivity on school closings and a perspective that is unique. I remember clearly when my uncle Richard and the school board announced the closing of 18 school closings in the 1980’s. I can vividly recall the emotions, the heated discussions, the frustration, particularly related to closing of Central High school in South Minneapolis. My uncle (and the board) closed Central, the school my father (his brother) graduated from. It was a stressful time to say the least. I know that the recommendation to close North did not come easy and the superintendent came into a sinking situation and decisions have to be made. Having said that, I am not impressed with how the administration and the school board handled this announcement and recommendation to close North. The district has to improve its communication and relationship with the community, particularly in North Minneapolis.
The other major concern is academic achievement. The superintendent stated that this is a moral issue and that she can not ignore the lack of academic progress for students at North High. This is a valid point and the elimination of the achievement gap is the districts top priority. In this context, the question becomes does closing North improve academic outcomes for students? The answer is not clear. Moreover, if closing schools becomes the solution then what does that say. There have been many changes and school closings, yet the gap has gotten wider. The displacement of students is not an adequate response alone and has been proven not to work.
Based on the enrollment numbers, North High has the best teacher to student ratios of all of the high schools. Research has pointed out that smaller classrooms are ideal for student success. If this is true and I believe it is, something is not lining up. There are students at North who are doing exceptionally well. In the student body: 20% proficient in reading; 8 % in math; and 4 % in science and we should celebrate their accomplishments. On the other hand, 80% are not proficient in reading, 92% in math are not proficient and 96% are not proficient in science that is an extreme concern and we have to come together to figure out what our students need.
Keeping North open will not improve outcomes for all students, unless there is a strong comprehensive plan in place. A plan that includes commitment, multiple measures to evaluate effectiveness and accountability. This is a time for leadership
This is a benchmark moment in our community. It will either document the end of an era with the closing of North or it will be the time when our community comes together despite our differing opinions to not only save North, but to save our children.
~~~ by Chanda Smith Baker, school board candidate website: http://www.chandaforschoolboard.org// facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#%21/group.php?gid=102494609785850