Minneapolis targets six schools for closure

Minneapolis student
Tony Williams, an eighth grader at Field Community School, told the board that while his school isn't slated to close, he has friends at Lincoln Community School, which is on the closure list.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

At a packed school board meeting, the district's chief academic officer, Bernadeia Johnson, named the north side schools on the closure list.

"The W. Harry Davis Academy, Jordan Park Community School, Lincoln Community School, North Star Community School, and Shingle Creek, as planned, would be recommended for closing," Johnson announced.

Minneapolis schools to close
A map showing the northern portion of the Minneapolis school district. Five schools in that area are slated for closure -- they are noted in red.
Map courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools

The latter two schools serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade; the first three are K-8 schools. District officials are also recommending the closure of Tuttle, a K-8 school on the city's southeast side.

District leaders say they have no choice but to close schools. Minneapolis has enough classroom space for 50,000 students, but enrollment is around 36,000 students, and that's expected to drop even further.

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The district's operations chief, Steve Liss, says the problem is most acute in north Minneapolis.

"We've lost half our students on the north side. We've gone from 8,000 students to about 4,000 students in that area," said Liss. "We realized that, combined with the issues of academic achievement, we really had to do something, and we had to do something this year."

"The African American community shouldn't stand for all these school closings in their neighborhood."

District officials have proposed a north side initiative that would ensure that all of the remaining schools offer a core academic curriculum along with fine arts, music, languages and full day kindergarten.

District officials hope that improving academic offerings on the north side will stop the loss of students to nearby districts and charter schools. They've been holding meetings on the north side to outline their plan, in hopes it would alleviate some of the potential outcry when the list of schools was announced.

The school board could get an earful when it holds a public hearing on the proposed list next month. Reaction during Tuesday's meeting was fairly muted, since none of the north side parents who spoke has children in schools that are slated to close.

But community activist Al Flowers told the board once the word gets out, people will be outraged.

"I guarantee you this -- the African American community shouldn't stand for all these school closings in their neighborhood," said Flowers. "Kenny had low enrollment last year -- you didn't touch it because they brought their kids here, but they had time to organize. And our community must organize and stop this school board."

Crowded meeting
A large crowd attended Tuesday night's Minneapolis school board meeting, to hear about the board's plans to close six district schools.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

Kenny elementary school in southwest Minneapolis survived the last round of school closings two years ago. That highly contentious debate lasted a year, and resulted in a decision to close 14 schools across the city. Board member Sharon Henry-Blythe says the process is different this time.

"It's driven by the needs of the children, and less by the demographics," she said. "It's been a much more deliberate and intentional process focused on the students."

Henry-Blythe says she thinks the district is on the right track with the north side initiative. But while she likes the plan, she wants to hear from affected families before making a final decision on which schools to close.

"Nothing is etched in stone. And there's got to be a willingness -- I want to stay open to hearing from the community, the families and the leadership on the north side of Minneapolis," Henry-Blythe said.

The board plans to vote on the school closings April 12.

As the board wrestles with its decision, it will face other difficult choices down the road. District officials anticipate more school closings in other parts of the city, and the board will have to decide what to do with the many vacant school buildings it still owns.