Q&A with Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson

MPR's Cathy Wurzer interviewed Minneapolis School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson about her recommendation that the city's school board close North High School.

Supporters of a landmark Minneapolis high school plan to rally today outside the district headquarters to voice their opposition to plans to shut down North High.

Johnson says enrollment has declined from about 1,100 students five years ago to just over 250 now. The school was designed to hold as many as 2,000 students.

Johnson said the housing crisis has hit the neighborhood around the school particularly hard and had an impact on enrollment. She also says academic achievement has declined markedly, and that the school has the lowest achievement of the city's seven traditional high schools.

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"We all rememeber the times when North High certainly was one of the most recognized high schools in the city. And that's not the school that we see today," Johnson told MPR's Morning Edition. "This is a tough, tough decision, and certainly not one of the first decisions I would have liked to have made as the superintendent of schools, but when you have a 'student first' agenda and you're concerned about how well students are doing, that I could do no less."

Johnson said the district's "Choice is Yours" program is sending 2,000 students to the suburbs, and many others from the area to public charter schools. Many of the charter students are high school students and live on the city's North Side, she said.

Johnson said the district tried a special open enrollment program, but it failed to attract enough students to keep the school going. The building will likely remain open for other programs, but no more classes will graduate from there.

Johnson said that the school district is not giving up on the North Side. She said the school board has approved a number of other initiatives, like the Noble Academy, based on a Chicago model that has proven successful in graduating black and Hispanic students.

She also said that the district's radio station, KBEM, which operates out of the North High building, will also continue.