|I couldn't help but notice the juxtaposition here: We're rallying to save North High underneath the Minneapolis Public Schools banner: "Expect Great Things."|
|Where will this child go to high school?|
|This young woman was very well-spoken. Her story will be told later in the post.|
|Due to a prior commitment, I could not stay for the meeting itself. But there was an overflow crowd.|
The Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools announced her recommendation to close down North High School due to its low enrollment numbers, and that recommendation was brought before the school board today. As expected, scores of north Minneapolis residents, North High students and alumni, and other supporters rallied in front of the school board to call for the school to be saved.
Earlier in the day, North High was the focus of an hour-long discussion on Minnesota Public Radio. In that session, a north Minneapolis resident called up and said he looked at North High's average test scores and decided that there was no way he would send his child to this school. The sad part is that he lives only a few blocks from the school itself. This scenario was exactly what I had pondered when I wondered if North can be saved. And the comment would lead one to believe that the school has little to offer to honors or other exceptional students, and that children who attend there may be unprepared for a job or continuing education.
Let me tell you right now, from speaking with children and parents at the rally, this is not the case. Kids are graduating prepared for a university education. Kids are taking honors courses and they don't have to be bused elsewhere for that. It's happening right here in our community and we need to keep it that way.
The rally got started with the chant...
..."When north Minneapolis is under attack, what do we do?" "STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!" "When public education is under attack, what do we do?" "STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!"
Folks holding the bullhorns were from an entity called PEJAM, or Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota. One PEJAM activist approached me and asked me to sign a petition to simultaneously save North High and stop the "privatization of public schools." I expressed my support for North High, but asked what the supposed privatization part had to do with the issue at hand. She "shunned" me, or more accurately, "'tion-ed" me with multi-syllable words ending in "tion." Corporatization, institution, revolution, privatization...it was like listening to a young child bang randomly on piano keys. Sometimes cute, but not really helpful.
I signed the petition, but said I wanted to know more about the second half of what I was expressing support to. So she connected me with Teddy Shibabaw, who explained more about PEJAM's stance. If I'm summarizing it correctly, charter schools are a problem and essentially an arm of Wall Street, which wants to get in on the $800 billion-dollar public education game. Charter schools also create difficulties in that they can pick the students they want, and leave the more difficult ones for the public schools to take on. We spoke about how North High lost its "feeder" schools when the middle schools and elementary schools were shut down over north. I wasn't feeling him on the Wall Street connection, but people can check out the PEJAM website and other sources and decide for themselves. Whether that sinister corporate interest exists or not, my main problem with this idea is that I don't see where exposing that leads to a solution that saves North High.
About that time, Representative Champion and Senator Higgins spoke.
I also spoke with Gwendolyn Kinsman, a sophomore at North High. By now, many readers may already be familiar with her, as she was in high demand among the TV crews covering the rally. When we talked, she rattled of a series of honors and advanced placement courses she is already taking. She doesn't have to bus to other schools to get this quality education; it's already happening at North High. Gwendolyn also told of a friend who is graduating and will be attending Harvard - which, last I checked, was kind of a difficult school to get into.
Kinsman informed me that children from other parts of Minneapolis, especially Northeast, were bused to many of the high schools in the city to help them decide where they wanted to attend. North High was excluded from this bus tour. Letters were sent out to children and parents also listing the potential choices, and North High was at the bottom of the list. North is also the only public high school in Minneapolis without a geographic zone around it that feeds local students into their enrollment. Generally, I have a hard time buying conspiracy theories about whether such institutions were designed to fail, but it's clear that North High has, at best, been abandoned.
I asked Gwendolyn if she feels that she is getting a challenging, quality education at North, and she adamantly affirmed that. "It angers me that people are saying you can't get a quality education" here.
Before we went inside, Al Flowers was given a bullhorn. Just as he was about to speak, I was telling the people around me, "I don't want North High to be saved because a bunch of us stood on the corner and yelled. I want North High to be saved because we have a plan to make it successful." Al and I wound up on the same wavelength, as he said just that, almost verbatim. I'd like to see the proposal he waved in front of the crowd, but it's encouraging that North High supporters are thinking strategically about this.
It seems to me that saving North High is going to take several things: first, a strongly stated commitment from the school board that it will indeed stay open. Who wants to go to a school that may or may not be around by the time you graduate? Second, bring back some of the geographic zones that will make North High the default choice for many local students. If that's possible at all, it may take some time to implement. In the interim, North needs to be listed at or near the top of possible schools when such notifications go out to middle school students and their parents. And the tours of high schools have to include North High.
I'm generally not in favor of political litmus tests on one issue alone, but perhaps in this case it's time for us to base our school board votes on one question alone: Do you oppose the proposal to close North High?
Once again, I ask readers to offer their solutions, or to educate ME on North's history or even the corporate connections I seem to be missing. As that discussion takes place, let's focus it like a laser on one goal: How do we save North High?