Board gives North High a second chance

Minneapolis School Board
The Minneapolis School Board voted Tuesday night to allow a group of community students to recruit new ninth graders for North High School next year.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The Minneapolis School Board voted Tuesday night to allow a group of community stakeholders to both recruit new ninth graders to attend North High School next year and help design an entirely new North High School that would replace the current North in two years.

"We're not closing North High," said district spokesman Stan Alleyne. "The board made that commitment."

The challenge of designing a program that will attract students will largely fall to the community, which had protested the district's plan to close North High and offered to help find a solution.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson proposed North's closure last month, saying both student enrollment and achievement were unacceptably too low. The school has just 265 students this year and only 26 percent of students are proficient in reading, and only 8 percent in math.

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Johnson's original plan was met with protests from people who offered to help recruit more students. Last week, she amended her plan to create a 'design team' of stakeholders that will create a framework for a new North High School that could open in 2012.

That amended plan was still met Tuesday with protests; critics said it was a sham attempt to alleviate protests but that it still prevented new ninth graders from enrolling in the current North High next year. Critics said that would create a one-year gap during which no student could become a new North High student.

Marcus Owens, with the North High Alumni Association, presented the school board with an offer Tuesday night to let the group try to recruit new students to be ninth graders next year. After a long debate and a split vote, the board agreed to allow a new ninth grade class next year, but only if the community can find 125 new ninth graders for next year by the end of March.

Marcus Owens
Marcus Owens, with the North High Alumni Association, speaks with Minneapolis School Board member Jill Davis after Tuesday night's meeting.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Owens acknowledges the challenge -- only 40 students enrolled in ninth grade this year at North -- but said the community is ready for it.

"There's 10,000 kids in Minneapolis that don't go to Minneapolis schools," Owens said. "We have to go out and get them; they're going somewhere, and they're not doing better out there than they are in here."

Owens said that if they can show those students that they can do better this time around and give them a real opportunity, it will be better for the community.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's original proposal did not allow for new ninth graders, saying she didn't want to send any more students to a school that's currently failing academically.

"I wish the community well and we're going to help do everything we can with enrollment," Johnson said. "But the reality is you want to attract families with something you can sell and get them excited about being there for four years with, and until the design process is done, that's not there."

The final vote Tuesday night was a 4-3 split, though the three board members who voted no- - Peggy Flanagan, Tom Madden and Carla Bates -- cited different reasons for voting no. Flanagan said hers was a protest vote against the process the district used for closing North High, namely that a district letter went home to families announcing the closing before the board could discuss the matter.

Madden, meanwhile, had been a sure vote in favor of the North High closing, but ended up against the final proposal because it included the language allowing for new ninth graders next year.

"I don't think we have any business trying to find 125 kids to come to a failing school," he said. Madden also conceded that the process -- if it lives up to the promise from the community -- could result in new students and new revenue for the district.

"If it works, great, but the onus is on the community," he said.

OTHER SCHOOLS FACING UNCERTAINTY

Tuesday's meeting also revealed that North High isn't the only school in limbo on the city's north side. District leaders confirmed that Cityview Performing Arts Magnet will close after this year, though the board took no action on that matter.

Cityview was listed this year as one of the state's 34 persistent lowest performing and was required to make federal-mandated changes. Reopening as a charter school is one change option, which will happen with Cityview. A newly-approved science charter will open in Cityview's place.

Superintendent Johnson said that while seven city schools were on the low performers list, only Cityview will use the federal option to re-open as a charter.

"We were trying to apply a new strategy that we had decided on, which was look at new schools as a way of addressing chronically-low performing schools," Johnson said. "So, we decided to a apply a strategy that we all agreed upon."

Cityview's current fourth through seventh graders will still be allowed to attend Cityview during the next three years.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the school board voted to close North.