No freshman class at North High in 2011

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2011 - 8:59 PM

School did not make enrollment requirement, but supporters remain optimistic about the future.

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North High School in Minneapolis

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The decline of North High has reached a new low: Minneapolis' oldest high school won't have a freshman class next fall.

Five months of wooing families didn't attract the 125 incoming freshman that district Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson wanted.

The finally tally: 52 students.

Unless the Minneapolis school board alters Johnson's plan, the eighth-grade students who opted for North will now disperse to Edison and Henry high schools. Without a freshman class, enrollment at North could drop below 200 in the fall, district spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said.

"It's been difficult," said Kale Severson, the North High alumni association president. "There's a lot to lose."

Johnson's decision to phase out the current North in 2013 and open a new North in fall 2012 left some residents confused. Rampant rumors and uncertainty about the school's future kept families from committing to North, an anchor in north Minneapolis since the late 1800s.

The school has a new principal, longtime St. Paul school district administrator Peter Christensen, and a new plan for the future, but, in a neighborhood ravaged by foreclosures and population loss, not enough new students to justify a freshman class.

The Minneapolis school district has hired the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) in an effort to reverse the school's academic and enrollment decline. Details of the contract are not final, district spokesman Stan Alleyne said.

The New York-based company has helped turn around some of the worst schools in some of the nation's poorest-performing urban districts.

Community support is crucial to revitalizing the schools, said Gerry House, president and CEO of ISA. She sees that in north Minneapolis.

"The desire of the community is an asset," she said.

Building the future

The ISA establishes several themed specialty schools on the same campus, forging new identities for schools that families have abandoned.

House compared the work ahead for North High to the makeover at George Washington Carver High School in Atlanta. Like North, it was a source of pride in the black community that slipped into decline: The four-year graduation rate was 15 percent and enrollment had sunk dramatically, said Keith Bromery, an Atlanta Public Schools spokesman.

Now, Carver is touted as a model for school reform in Atlanta, a system facing so many challenges that one of the nation's top school accrediting agencies placed the entire district on probation.

House and staff established the New Schools at Carver, bringing three career-themed schools and the district's School of Entrepreneurship to the campus. In less than five years, graduation rates have increased sixfold. Enrollment will swell above 1,600 students in the fall after having dipped below 300.

North High supporters hope for a similar success story.

"People are starting to believe again," Brett Buckner, a North High graduate and redesign committee member, said last month. "The community needs to know that the future is being set right now."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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