School pathways, five-year enrollment plan: What North and Northeast Minneapolis schools are affected?

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Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) parents have been given one more month to comment on a complex Five-Year Enrollment Plan, but many say they should have been involved long before the district administration developed the plan.

In a fast-paced hour Tuesday, Oct. 22, parents and community advocates peppered Associate Superintendent for Area A, Michael Thomas, with questions and statements on themes of disingenuous engagement, selling North Community High School short, and other concerns. For the most part, Thomas acknowledged and answered the questions before, after a few attempts, dividing the room into small discussion groups for a half hour of discussion plus half hour to report back and wrap up.

What would have been the decision date, Nov. 12, will become a “status update, or Recommendation 2.0,” Thomas said. The school board, at its regular meeting at 1250 West Broadway, will hear and question the staff on its recommendations. And, delegations will be heard; so as school meeting veteran Buzzy Bohn said, “that would be the time to attend and say this is or is not what we said.” Meetings typically start with public comment on any topic, 5:30-6 p.m., the board meeting itself runs 6-8 p.m.

The district is maintaining a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website (www.mpls.k12.mn.us, under Key Topics click on Enrollment Plan); according to parents who’ve been attending the meetings, it’s updated about a week after each community meeting and, so far, has captured the essence. Bohn suggested “there needs to be a phone number, and options” for people who don’t have ready access to computers.

The plan’s point, according to district literature, is “to strengthen schools through enrollment strategies. The plan embeds Dr. Bernadeia Johnson’s Shift priorities to reshape the educational experience for all students at MPS. These strategies address increasing and changing enrollment across the city. The plan will enable MPS to offer exciting and innovative academic programs in every area of the city to meet the needs of our diverse learners. Through academic transformation and facility planning, MPS will provide programs that our current and future students will need.”

It’s anticipated there will be 3,400 new students citywide over the five years, 397 in grades K-5 and 321 in 6-8 in Area A (North and Northeast). Only 24 more students in grades 9-12 are anticipated in Area A.

They’ve held three meetings about Area A, one at Anwatin [reported on Twin Cities Daily Planet], one at Northeast Middle School, and the Oct. 22 meeting at Lucy Craft Laney in the gym, about two-thirds full—60 to 80 people, a couple dozen of whom were district staff. Thomas has also offered to meet people in small groups wherever and whenever, which has happened—he said he feels like he’s been constantly on the road.

Paul Schulz said, “The area suffers from all the transitions. It feels like a new experiment every year. I don’t know what my two year old will do. The Northside is losing over all demographics because of this mistrust.” The sentiment came up at the Anwatin meeting as well. And in Northeast, downtown parents, who would have to bus their students no matter where they end up, talked about the feeling of district instability.

So, what North schools are affected? In the first two years, early childhood centers would open at Sheridan, North High, and the Davis Center. There was disagreement over whether these would be the right locations or messages. A mother said her daughter was making the right choice to stay in school and not get pregnant, she didn’t need to be sharing her school with babies.

In 2014 to 2015, CityView would re-open with a re-located arts program from Sheridan, combined into a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) PreK-5 curriculum. Pierre Bottineau French Immersion elementary would co-locate there, moving out of the former Jordan Park school building. The Mastery school would co-locate with Minneapolis College Prep at Lincoln; currently Mastery is adding a grade each year, it started as K-2 in 2012.

Parents called for sensible and reliable pathways, so that they would know where their kids would end up in high school, as they enrolled them in Pre-K or kindergarten. The new attendance boundaries would create pathways as follows: Bethune and Lucy Laney to New Franklin Middle, to North High. In the Patrick Henry High School area: Nellie Stone Johnson K-8, Hmong International K-8, Loring and Lind elementaries, and Cityview STEAM to Olson. Edison High anchor would accept students from Northeast Middle School (fed by Pillsbury, Waite Park, New Sheridan Community School).

Several suggested making the STEAM pathway to North High School, where the next small school concept will likely be a “Summatech”-like program (popular in the 1990s). A proposal to have a performing arts audition-based arts school at Wilder on the south side had North advocates saying “why can’t North be the Fame School?” North also had strong theater programs in its heyday.

Some pointed out disparity in how much money the district would be spending for capital improvements to accommodate the new plan, about $2.1 million in 2014-15 and $12,600 in 2016-17 otherwise zero, out of a city total approximately $100 million for the five years. Thomas replied that a lot had already been invested in new North Minneapolis school buildings already. (Several new schools were built based on immigration forecasts, and then immigration was frozen, along with other students leaving the area for other school choices.)

Additional themes from the small-group report-backs:

  • Parents want an International Baccalaureate option for Middle School on the Northside.
  • Invest in staff. All schools need to be high-performing, so need the best staff who will inspire students and engage with parents. Thomas said that this is a new theme emerging, and that Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson is committed to investment in strong human capital.
  • North High School needs a five- to 10-year plan. When schools are closed, the community is weakened. North needs to become again the strong anchor of its community (like Henry is for Camden).
  • Any new school program that opens needs to be built a year at a time “so you know you’re building sustainability.”
  • Stress (non-college) career possibilities in addition to college readiness. There is demand for culinary arts and life skills, bring back home economics for both sexes.

Related stories: Parents not thrilled with Minneapolis Public Schools five-year enrollment plan meeting (Sarah Lahm, 2013)