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Continued: North High may rise again

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 4, 2010 - 10:06 PM

Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson wants to kill the city's oldest high school, only to resurrect it.

While maintaining her controversial commitment to close North High School by 2014, Johnson announced on Thursday that she wants the district to open a new North High in 2012, after re-imagining and reconfiguring a school that has anchored north Minneapolis for more than a century.

Johnson envisions the new North High as a 500-student magnet school that would help the district win back students who have left in droves for charter schools or suburban districts.

If Johnson's plan is approved, the two North Highs would co-exist for two years in an already-crowded educational landscape that offers families dozens of options.

"Any kind of [school] closing or realigning is filled with potential pitfalls and political angst," said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "But they're probably at the point where they want to reset the education system on the North Side of Minneapolis."

The Board of Education is expected to vote on Johnson's proposal Tuesday.

The plan, even if approved, hinges on something that's not guaranteed: The district will rely on North High's supporters to recruit and retain students, school board President Tom Madden said.

Madden and his colleagues will give those supporters a chance to build and sustain a new North High, a put-up or shut-up plan he hopes will absolve the district of blame.

"The community says they can produce," said Madden, who leaves the school board in January. "If they can, amen. If not, we're right back where we started. The district can't support a high school with 200 students."

The board may set enrollment requirements even before approving Johnson's recommendation, Madden said. That means residents who accused the district of failing to support North High will now have to prop up a school that many of them abandoned.

"This will not be easy," Johnson said at a press conference on Thursday. "We will need people to maintain their current passion for North. The hard work begins now."

A one-year gap

Under Johnson's plan, the current school still would not accept freshmen next fall. The new school would enroll ninth graders a year later, leaving a gap-year where middle school students couldn't choose North. Current eighth-graders would have the option of attending Henry or Edison high schools.

Regardless of what happens, the superintendent's plan would leave the current North High and its students to wither on the vine, sophomore Gwendolyn Kinsman said.

Kinsman predicted current students will flee North, knowing it is destined to die.

"I'm angry that she's forgetting all the current students at North," the 15-year-old said. "Once people leave, how are they going to get them back in?"

The Minneapolis School District has seven high schools; five of them -- Edison, Henry, North, Roosevelt and Washburn -- have lost more than 20 percent of their students since 2005.

Despite the decades-long enrollment decline, the addition of two Minneapolis College Preparatory campuses and the new North High could bring the number of high schools to 10 by 2012.

Minneapolis College Preparatory plans to open its north campus to high school freshmen in the fall, possibly in the old Lincoln Elementary School. The school could scoop up ninth-graders who planned to attend North next fall, though organizers have said that isn't their intent.

Daunting and daring

Johnson declined to discuss plans for the new North High campus, saying she'll rely on community input to find the right site and curriculum. While it will have a North Side address, officials hope the school will attract students from throughout the city and metro area.

The plan is daunting and daring, Kyte said, adding: "The best of superintendents rework, adjust and modify their recommendations to get the job done and meet the needs of the community. She's acknowledging that there needs to be solid secondary education on the North Side."

The new North is only a vision at this point, Madden said, but he's rooting for success. "It would be a great turnaround story, the new model for what we do in Minneapolis for the future."

That future will hinge on bringing back students and parents, some who may not be so willing to give it another try.

Kinsman, who commutes from the Forest Lake School District, plans to stick with the current North High if it remains open, but she's not so sure the future bodes well. "It was a great school before the district interfered and things got, in their words, 'terrible,'" Kinsman said.

"Now they're interfering again. Things can only get worse."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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