Friday, October 22, 2010

"School is in Session. We Hope You're Taking Notes. There WILL be a Test!"

Post, videos, and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Over 250 northside residents and North High supporters gathered for a community forum on Monday, October 18.  We told the Minneapolis Public School board and superintendent exactly what the community thought of their proposal to close down North High School.  Board members Madden, Williams, Lee, Stewart, Davis, and Flanagan were in attendance, as well as state Representatives Mullery and Champion, state Senator Higgins, and a representative from Congressman Ellison's office.

Superintendent Johnson began with a series of slides that gave an empirical account of North's decline while conveniently managing not to take any School Board responsibility for such events.  The slides began...
...with this one:

Now, the numbers aren't promising, that's for sure - especially damning is the Board's claim that enrollment declines had little to do with the closing of feeder schools, the Choice is Yours program, of the removal of the home zone designation; as well as the performance numbers on the last slide.

Once the Board and Superintendent laid out their case, ground rules were established for those wishing to make public comments:  two minutes per person, if a person was representing a group (such as an elected official or the head of an organization) they could have five minutes.  Comments beyond the time limit would be cut off, but speakers could submit the remainder of their comments in writing for consideration.

The community's disdain for just about anything this committee proposed was immediately evident, as Representative Champion went over the allotted time and, over the protestations of the Chair, was encouraged by those in attendance to continue.  Also, one of the first community members to speak used a Very Bad Word and had the microphone turned off so that little children wouldn't have their ears and minds corrupted.  Please have little Jimmy turn his eyes from the computer for a moment.

He called the School Board's plans "bullshit," and was loudly applauded as he continued his rant even after the mic was off.  You could almost feel sorry for these elected and appointed officials having to wade into such a hostile environment, until one remembered that the reason we were in attendance was because they want to close down our local high school.

Children can resume reading now.  And let's turn our attention back to Champion.

He stated that we are where we are largely because of neglect.  No plan was enacted to create a premiere high school at North.  North High survived school choice, it survived open enrollment, and it did that because it had options and features that were attractive to community members, children, and parents.  All of that, and our feeder schools, were taken away.

Champion brought up CM Samuels' unfortunate comments, but in a different context.  He said that what was most troubling in the aftermath was that no School Board member spoke up in defense of North High or in condemnation of such a statement.  (Hawkman interjects:  often the "nobody said this" statement really means "somebody said this and I just happened to either not hear it or I forgot."  If readers have evidence that School Board members did indeed come to the defense of North High, please share.)  Champion asserted that such a deafening silence spoke volumes to the surrounding community about the lack of importance North High had from the Board.

And when people who lived across the street from North or in near proximity were told that Henry or Edison were their default schools of choice, that also spoke of a lack of respect for North High.  There has been a lack of civic engagement from the Board, leading to a perception that the community is "whining."  But when people look at where to buy homes, often the FIRST question is in regards to proximity to a quality school.  In no other community would such a closure be tolerated and in no other community would the Board attempt this.

Senator Higgins spoke next, stating her belief that the proposal is "not ready for prime time."  The School Board did not do enough of their own research on the topic, not even to the level we would expect of our students.  We have not been informed what the system-wide effect of closure would be. And why NHS instead of other schools as closure candidates?  How does North High and its potential closure compare with what other cities and school systems are doing?  She closed by affirming that the room was filled with people who are ready to help the Board see what an asset NHS is to this community.

Marcus Owens of Friends of North also spoke, telling the Board that there was a perception in the community that North would be slated for closure.  When that wasn't refuted, it led many to send their children elsewhere because they did not want their children going to a school that had no future.

Kale Severson informed the group that 71% of Minneapolis 5th Ward residents voted for the 2008 referendum to increase public school funding, and now that commitment we made is being disregarded.  Going back to the point about default schools, 75% of north Minneapolis students don't enroll differently than their default school of choice, further contributing, or directly leading to, the decline at North.

Representative Ellison's statement was already profiled here, but let me reiterate one thing:  The closing of North High is not a plan, but PART OF A PLAN to (one can only hope) provide quality education to children in north Minneapolis.  The School Board has not shown us what the entire plan looks like (this is assuming they have one).  So, show us the whole plan, and until that happens, North should remain open.

Another teacher referred to a 2008 University of Minnesota study that found charter school students don't perform better than those in public schools.  Furthermore, he claimed that charter schools are often exempt from certain standards as they start up, and that they can pick and choose their students in ways that bolster their scores.  (I make no claim to the validity of such statements as I'm new to this issue.  But readers are encouraged to offer their own knowledge, pro and con, about charter schools.)

Mel Reeves said this was a moral issue, and that it's morally wrong to fail our children and then blame them.  Speaking to the Board, he said, "You have failed; let us help you succeed."

Another resident claimed to have asked the Board, "What can I do to help North High?" over three months ago, and the only response she got was an invitation to be put on the superintendent's listserv.  "When we offer to help, you should take us up on it."

A mother of three North High graduates and students spoke about how she worked at several north Minneapolis schools that are now shuttered.  She rattled off a list of every school her children attended here.  They are all closed.

Parents praised North for its excellence and claimed that was the reason they sent their children here.  A Willard-Hay resident still has dreams that his 1st-grade daughter will attend North, one reason he moved back to the area.  Another woman said her child would be educated in religious schooling until she was old enough to attend high school, and at that time she would want her daughter to come to North.  Her family attended North High "before Jews had whiteness," and she wants her children to be a part of this community's legacy.  Michael Delgado, an '03 graduate, just returned from a tour of duty serving his country in Iraq.

Terra Cole, a National Honors student with a master's degree from the Humphrey Institute, proclaimed herself a "pedigree of North High."  She had to convince her parents to allow her to attend, and attributed her success to the high quality of the teachers at North.

An eighth-grade student has one sibling who graduated and another in attendance now.  She wants to continue the tradition and attend North herself.  Sarah Johnson, a senior, took biology credits at Harvard last summer.  She will be graduating with 35 (thirty-five!) college credits and beginning her next level of schooling as a sophomore.

Carol Pass, an activist in the Phillips neighborhood, said "We don't have what you have in North.  We don't have a flagship school in our community.  We ENVY YOU.  We want to COMPETE with you."  (This in the context of sporting and other competitive high school events.)

By far my favorite speaker of the evening was an old codger by the name of Cary Shaich.  He referenced a sign in the School Board building that said, "It is better to build a child than to repair an adult."  If North High closes, our community will have to repair a lot of adults.  His words are echoed in the title of this post as well.  "School is in session.  We hope you're taking notes.  There WILL be a test.  Six students, and one excused absence (a Board member who could not be in attendance) are being educated by over two hundred people tonight."

That education will continue on Saturday October 23rd, 3:00 at Zion Baptist Church, 621 Elwood Ave N in Minneapolis.  Residents will strategize a course of action for the upcoming School Board meeting on Tuesday the 26th.  The test, if it comes to it, will be on November 9th, when a vote is expected.  And North High supporters are encouraged to use their vote in the school board elections as well.

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