Minneapolis’ North High School will welcome a new principal in the 2019-20 school year.
Shawn Harris-Berry, who served North for seven years, has been named an associate superintendent for Minneapolis Public Schools.
She said her decision to leave her principal job was influenced by the 32 years she spent working in the school district and her desire to have a greater reach.
“North High school is not going to miss a beat, it’s going to excel,” Harris-Berry said in an interview Tuesday. “It has been the most fulfilling position that I have had as an administrator.”
She started her new job on July 22. Her responsibilities include managing, supporting and coaching school leaders.
Harris-Berry came to North during a tumultuous time. The school was on the brink of closing because of plummeting enrollment and poor academics.
But after a fierce and successful community pushback, then-Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson recruited Harris-Berry, who had no experience leading a high school, to help the school rebuild.
At the time, Harris-Berry was the principal at Whittier Elementary.
In the 2012-13 school year, when Harris-Berry took the helm at North, only 68 students walked the halls of the city’s oldest school, which was built for 1,700.
Every year after that, the school added a grade level and boosted enrollment, in part by improving academics and making Franklin Middle School, Lucy Laney and Bethune its feeder schools.
Under Harris-Berry’s leadership, the school adopted a research-based instruction model from the Institute for Student Achievement to help improve academics and graduation rates.
Twice a year, she sent North students to tour colleges, particularly historically black colleges, to build up their confidence. And for the last seven years, she’s been working on strengthening the school’s specialized programs — arts and communications, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) — by bringing in a new team of teachers.
But her biggest contribution, North High advocates say, was that she engaged parents, students, staff and alumni to combat negative narratives about the school.
“North is in a very good place,” Harris-Berry said. “Our team has built a good leadership capacity.”
She said the search for the new principal has started, and candidates will be interviewed for the position Wednesday. District officials will announce her replacement in the coming weeks, she said.
The next principal will face a challenge. Many families are opting out of standardized tests and others are fleeing to neighboring schools. To curb the exodus, Harris-Berry said, more specialized programs need to be implemented at North.
School Board Member KerryJo Felder, who represents the area that includes North High, said Harris-Berry’s presence at the district’s headquarters will be crucial. Felder said the district introduced five candidates with different administrative skills at a mid-July community meeting. But most families, she said, want a candidate with several years of experience leading a high school.
North High football coach Charles Adams, who’s also been the school’s resource officer for 12 years, lauded Harris-Berry for regularly attending school sports games and practices, and for keeping the North community intact.
“North needs somebody who has ties to the community, is well respected and is a strong leader,” he said.