Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman
I'm guessing by now most everyone reading NXNS has heard Superintendent Johnson's proposal to continue with a phasing out of North High, take a year off to develop a new model, and re-open a new North High in 2012. (although not necessarily in the same building; we'll get to that) In looking at chatter on Facebook, the Strib, and elsewhere, reactions to the plan are varied - ranging from calls for a failing school to be shut down immediately to feelings that this "plan" has nothing of substance that is different than Johnson's original proposition.
While my initial response did not embody such extremes, it was still mixed. My first thought upon hearing Johnson's new idea was, "This might be as good of a deal as we're going to get." My SECOND thought was...
..."That doesn't necessarily mean the proposal is acceptable or good enough."
Two of the most sensible things I've heard throughout this debate are from Representative Keith Ellison and from Al Flowers. (Yes, I have been very critical of Flowers in the past, but when someone says or does something that makes sense, I'll acknowledge that too.) Ellison said that closing North High was not, in and of itself, a plan to provide quality education to our children in the Near North community. Even if closure is necessary, that action is still only PART of a plan. At another meeting, Flowers stated that we can't keep North High open just for the sake of keeping it open. There has to be a plan in place to make it successful.
Whether Johnson's current proposal has merit or not, I am at least heartened by the fact that we are now discussing plans. However, the relationship between the Minneapolis Public Schools' system and many in the north Minneapolis community is, quite frankly, badly damaged or even broken. No progress on that front was made in any way by School Board President Tom Madden, when he was quoted in the Star Tribune as saying, "It's a failing school. Even if she changed her mind, we wouldn't get more than 20 [freshmen] there next year."
That statement was wholly inappropriate - unless of course Madden has the eerie ability to see into the future, or he's such a genius about our community and school enrollment that he can accurately predict the 2011 enrollment numbers in November of 2010. Then again, if he was that good, you'd think he'd have offered ways to keep North's attendance out of free fall over the past few years. I know if I was that skilled at coming up with accurate, yet random numbers, I'd be playing Powerball. A statement like that simply further erodes the confidence that the MPS is doing anything of substance to shore up education in our community.
The 2000 census showing that the Near North community had the highest concentration of minors/people under the age of 18. Those numbers aren't expected to shift drastically in the results of the 2010 census. So why is it that we're losing students at our community schools? The MPS has not really answered this question.
I'm also unsatisfied with Johnson's assessment of why the existing North has to be phased out, instead of working on a new model within the framework we already have in place. That being said, if the new model will truly be different, drawing students to a school with an identity that is in flux would be problematic and possibly even unfair to those incoming students.
There is no doubt that trust on both sides is at an all-time low. On the North High Facebook page, here are some of the comments left in reaction to this announcement:
"Essentially all Bernadeia has said today was that she would appoint a design team to discuss creating a 'new program' for existing North students, but no details are provided and - this is the main thing - she is still planning to prevent 8th graders from enrolling in North. This is just a little sugar coating on the poison pill so the community will resist less as they shove it down our throat.
"The purpose of this announcement, aside from demobilizing/confusing the community, is also to give a feeling of inevitability in the run up to the 9th, to tell people there is no purpose in coming out to protest. However, the fact she is compelled to make such a maneuver shows our movement is a force in the situation.
"The elections Tuesday also shifted the balance of forces in our favor. The victory of Mammon and Gagnon, the candidates who most publicly associated with the Save North High efforts, shows the mood of the entire electorate on this. The solid defeat of T Williams, the only incumbent, shows the public distrust of the existing Board. We have to sharply object to any big decision being made by this lame-duck Board of Education, who clearly do NOT represent the voters or the community at this stage. We must demand they put the vote off at least until the new Board is seated in January. Any decision taken before then lacks legitimacy and should not be respected or acknowledged by the community." - Teddy Shibabaw
"The school board already admitted that they had 'failed to provide an equitable education' under their 'old programs.' We should have NO FAITH in any 'new program' that they put forward unless they fully adopt the communities (sic) program....
"Our Program: (editorial note: I'm not aware of any formal process under which this program has received support. It may or may not be reflective of what the community wants. Many of these points, however, have been discussed at community meetings about how to save North High.)
* Withdraw the proposal to close North High and commit to re-investment in the school
* Reverse the decision to open two 'Minneapolis College Prep' charter high schools
* Re-establish a 'home zone' for North High to boost enrollment
* In partnership with parents, teachers, and students, develop an aggressive, fully-funded plan to boost enrollment at North High
* Support the efforts of North teachers, parents, and students to address academic and enrollment concerns by re-organizing North as a democratically managed community school." - Nick Shillingford
"Superintendent Johnson has not changed her position and still plans to close North High! All she added yesterday was, she'll get a group together to keep talking as she locks the doors on North. Everyone needs to still show up at the Board on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and tell them this is not acceptable!" - Robert Panning-Miller
The most important reaction, from my perspective, should come from the current students of North High. One student, sophomore Gwendolyn Kinsman, has been at many of the meetings and events surrounding the recent proposals, and had this to say to the Star Tribune: "It was a great school before the district interfered and things got, in their words, 'terrible." Now they're interfering again. Things can only get worse."
In spite of the deep, and quite possibly deserved, mistrust at many levels, the School Board, North High, and community stakeholders will have to come together to engage in a serious, constructive dialogue about what quality education in north Minneapolis is going to look like. This proposal, no matter how poorly or well constructed, is an important step in that discussion.