Monday, October 18, 2010
Save North High, PEJAM Plan Next Steps with Community
Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman. Quick editorial note: I apologize for the lack of photos indicating the broad community support. I got into participation and note-taking and completely forgot about my camera.
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!