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!


  1. I live in North Minneapolis and was not aware that North did not have a "home zone." Recently, a nephew came to live with us who is a Sophomore. I assumed that North would be the school for our neighborhood and was surprised to learn that we were in the Edison "home zone." Our nephew therefore now attends Edison. It did not even once occur to me that North did not have a home zone. I simply thought that Hawthorne must fall into Edison's area much the same that in Hawthorne we have Hofesteade as our council member. I still assumed that the rest of North must go to North High. I am sure that had North been our "home zone" that my nephew would be going to North right now.

  2. The closing of an institution such as a school is a very traumatic event for those whose identities are linked to these facilities. Yet, perhaps the closure of North High is a precursor to changes that need to be made in the US public education system.

    The US is falling behind the rest of the world in it's ability to educate it's youth and this post dramatically demonstrates much of the reason why.

    Education should not be about community identity, alumni organizations, business affiliations, or sport teams. Parents concerns should be that their child have the ability to pursue training and education that they are best suited for and that will be fulfilling for them as an adult. The ability of Nomi students to choose is an asset.

    This means the ability to choose between schools that can offer advanced quality education in a particular curriculum rather than cookie cutter facilities that compete against one another for social status.

    The weaknesses that North High have shown competing in the current educational system have given it the ability to be a leader to break the status quo that places the social aspects of our school system above the true goal of education.

  3. Anon 8:11, you make some very valid points. However, it was asserted at the meeting that the kinds of schools you describe do not produce better students nor are they cheaper. The similar results come with a lesser degree of accountability, and when charter schools can pick and choose whom to accept, that leaves struggling kids behind.

    Neither you nor the speakers at the meeting offered up significant proof to back up the claims though.

    And since I don't have children in the school system, my primary reason for being active around this particular issue IS the kind of community that gets built around quality education in north Minneapolis. And so I make the following proposition:

    Show me that charter schools or other education models are better for the children and therefore the community as a whole. Back that up with hard data and references. Explain how those models wouldn't leave disadvantaged and disenfranchised children behind. Do those things, and you can convince me that my current position is incorrect.

    If not, I'll throw in my lot with the community's efforts to keep North High open.

  4. What I asserted was that the current model and philosophy for our educational system needs change. I am not an advocate of publicly funded charter schools and even less impressed with private charter schools. Nor IMO should we fund private charter schools whose admissions or curriculum are based on social agendas.

    There is no education system that can remedy disadvantaged and disenfranchised children because that should not be the role of schools.

    We have contorted public education to take on the parental and social conscience for our society without regard for the quality of learning that takes place or how changes in lifestyle impact modern life. It has become the cut rate baby sitter of choice. And even that is inadequate as each summer thousands of children are released into neighborhoods where there is no parental supervision.

    We create social stigmas isolating and labeling students that can not learn as quickly because of maturity level or home environments.

    We have done away with the orphanages, boarding schools, and public mental health facilities that supported social reforms in favor of higher civil liberties but mostly due to the cost of maintaining these services.

    And the cost? Costs are relative. What is the cost of allowing individuals to buy and maintain 40-70 substandard rentals within a school district rented to the poor primarily through rental entitlements? What is the cost to society when the top 10% of US citizens own 70.9% of all US assets? Any of them live here? School funding by nature of geographical location is a loosing battle for communities like ours.

    If we want NoMi to attract single family homeowners willing to invest in the community and take a long term interest in raising families, we may want to consider the reality that a proprietary educational namesake may not be in the best interests of our students education. What we need are more flexible education models that adhere to the needs of students. Achievement based education, Year round curriculum that is flexible enough to allow real life learning activities, and curriculum funding based on need not geography.

    Yes, it is sad to see the efforts of the parents and educators who have worked so hard to make North High competitive in this model comprised, but real change is needed for the whole system and it won't get initiated in suburban schools.

  5. Here are some articles, data about charter schools - in terms of both hard data and analysis/about what the whole education "reform" agenda is about/and how education could be transformed from a paradigm that has been unchanged in really over a century -
    1. Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Citites - a study by the U of M's Institute on Race and Poverty(
    2. DIANE RAVITCH: The Myth of Charter Schools - a critique of the film "Waiting for Superman"(
    3. Stanford University Study showing only 17% of charters perform better than public schools, 37% do worse and the rest are equivalent to public schools(
    4. Article analyzing above study so you don't have to go through all 57 pages "The charter school problem: Results are much less positive than a new study suggests"(
    5. Neo-liberalism: The Leveraging of Charter Schools with Public and Private Funds by Danny Weil / November 24th, 2009(
    6. Education Rediscovered - Stanley Aronowitz - (
    7. RSA Animate 11 min video- Changing Education Paradigms - Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert(


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