Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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.  That document can be found here.  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 School
Updated 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
952
Edison High School
486
North High School
236
Southwest High School
133
Transition Plus (18-21 yr olds)
123
Plymouth Youth Center
98
Roosevelt High School
94
Washburn High School
68
SPAN High
53
Broadway Arts & Tech
39
Menlo Park
36
Harrison Education Center
31
Other (contract alternatives and alternative schools)
167
Total
2,633

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.

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