North High School Redesign advisors meet


They got to know each other a little bit, got invited to send six people to visit New York schools, and heard that Peter Christensen, the current principal at North High School is willing to stay another year to three years. The New North High School Advisory Committee had their first meeting with ISA (Institute for Student Achievement), the consultants chosen to help a new, small school structure and practice get going.

As the group considered, April 20, what categories of people need to be involved in focus groups to be held in May, the first thing consultants Gerry House and Vincent Brevetti did was rename the group “Redesigned North,” a nod to the school/community sentiment that “the last New North was the building with banners on it,” as Gwendolyn Kinsman put it.

Though a few members are a bit hesitant, the general mood in the room was “hopeful” or “passionate,” as summed up in the brief check-in at the end of the meeting. Committee members are listed later in this article. It was more than a house-keeping meeting, but was not meant to reach any immediate decisions.

One of ISA’s and the committee’s big tasks is to recruit a school leader—they said the characteristics the community wants to see in such a leader will also reflect how they want the school to feel. It was said, “we’re willing to hire the new principal for 2012 as early as this fall.” It could be Christensen, or someone else. School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson will make the decision from a short list of names from the committee and consultants.

There’s also the matter of a community-based liaison or “coach” that ISA will help select to do groundwork when they are not in town, to be selected when the principal comes.

Committee member Kerry Felder promoted the idea of “enroll the 97 students who are here, who haven’t chosen a school, to be part of the 100 to 108” (the lowest number ISA recommends for a class). Kale Severson and others brought up the Carver, Atlanta High School which now has 1,600 students (at capacity, similar to North’s capacity). That campus houses four different school programs of 400 each, Gerry House of ISA explained.

Johnson explained that the search for consultants specified wanting someone with expertise in smaller schools. “Start out small, then you can do another.” The question of whether this new configuration would be at the current North building was left vague.

“And then there’s another elephant in the room, the MCP/Noble charter high school,” opening at Lincoln School (one of the former feeder schools for North) said Buzzy Bohn, an alternate.

“Everyone we talk to says ‘well, there goes North’” with that in the offing. “I’d like the school board to take back that vote.” Johnson said MCP is not opening in 2011, Severson said it’s what’s posted on their website. “I’ll make a call,” Johnson said.

Members of the group discussed whether it’s helpful to “get closure” on how North got to where it is, from being a successful, venerable institution to the brink of being closed…or whether looking in the rear view mirror while trying to drive the car leads to a crash.

The word “trust” surfaced many times. The ISA consultants underscored that the committee members have been chosen by the community because they are trusted, and that it will be up to them to “carry the message of hope throughout the community.”

Brett Buckner, a committee member, said “we have some of the oldest alumni, and pretty powerful. We will have to drum beat it to everybody.” Felder said “I’m excited about this. The community is excited. There are people willing to come in and do summer programs, for free. It’s a trust lifting issue that people are willing to work free.”