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Continued: Rethinking North Side schools

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 10, 2010 - 12:07 PM

The passion and pride of residents has saved North High School for now, but another north Minneapolis school is on the block.

On Tuesday, school board members voted to close North in 2014 but also debut a new North High in 2012.

In a late amendment to Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's plan, board members approved letting a final class of freshmen enroll in the current school next fall, extending its life and keeping kids in the neighborhood until the transition to the reconfigured North begins in 2012.

The onus now falls on North High supporters to do something the district couldn't -- attract and retain students at a school where enrollment has nose-dived almost 80 percent in the past five years. Supporters must recruit 125 eighth-graders to North High by the end of March or the deal to admit a new class in 2011 is off.

"The vote is over," board member Lydia Lee told the crowd, "but the work is just beginning."

That work may also include trying to save Cityview Community School.

School board members are scheduled to vote Nov. 23 on a plan to eliminate the K-5 portion of Cityview to make way for the Minnesota School of Science, a charter school the district approved in March.

If the plan is approved, current Cityview students would have the option of attending the new charter or one of the remaining neighborhood schools.

Heated debate

Tuesday's school board session was marked by a rally outside school board headquarters, heated debate inside and a board discussion where members reviewed at least five amendments to Superintendent Johnson's proposal: Kill the current North High only to resurrect it later in another form.

The school has struggled in recent years with academics and declining enrollment, both of which taxed the district's budget by making it more expensive to educate students.

"This recommendation didn't come lightly," Johnson said. "For me ultimately, it is about wanting the best for children."

A new look

The move to close Cityview and the opening of the new Minneapolis College Preparatory campus could signal a shift for education in north Minneapolis. Starting next fall, the area could have just as many, if not more, charter schools than traditional public ones.

Besides potentially turning off families connected to neighborhood schools, there is another risk in opening more charter schools, said Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools.

The district may cannibalize its own student population, forcing even more school closures.

"To have a multitude of choices, if they're not quality, isn't much good to anybody," Piccolo said. "You've really got to do soul searching to open another charter school in Minneapolis."

In 2007, the district closed five north Minneapolis schools -- W. Harry Davis, Jordan Park, Lincoln, Shingle Creek and North Star.

The recent talk of closing down North had been like a shot to the solar plexus for weary families and children, North High parent Blenda Smith said.

"School for students is a big part of their life," Smith said. "It's like an uppercut to these kids when they try so hard."

Starting over

Last winter, Johnson gave North's supporters an enrollment target of 500 students to stave off closure, but they came up short by almost half.

Johnson's original recommendation to shutter North High, without a chance for revival, spurred the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP to call for parents to pull their children out of the Minneapolis schools. North Side residents accused the district of systematically setting up North High to fail.

Johnson's revised plan is a reprieve, of sorts, for the hundreds of North High supporters who pleaded and demanded another chance to revive the flat-lining school.

Many in attendance Tuesday said they're ready to rebuild the bedrock of north Minneapolis. The new North High would enroll freshmen for the 2012-13 academic year.

Tuesday's vote marks the beginning of a 13-month process to not only find the right site, but also the right curriculum for the new school. School board members are scheduled to approve both next November.

"It's going to be a challenge," Johnson said. "It's going to be a lot of work."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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