10 November 2010


Last month, the superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools recommended that North High School be phased out. I was on tour all month and only learned of this through an email from KBEM, the jazz radio station that operates out of North High, but the proposal made headlines locally, and rightfully so. Though the message stated that the radio station "continue[s] to have the support of the school board and the Minneapolis Public Schools," the thought of North High closing makes me sick regardless.

I'm a biased observer working with limited information, but there's plenty about this that stinks. A Minnesota Public Radio story from last month states that,

There were more than 1,100 students attending North High School just six years ago. This year, there are just 265, and only about 40 of those are freshman who started this fall.

and later that,

North is the only high school in the city without an attendance zone, which means it's no one's default school. Even families living across the street from North are assigned to Henry or Edison. District leaders acknowledge that, but add the enrollment problem has been around longer than those attendance zones.

To my knowledge, the attendance zones go back to at least 1996, when my parents and I decided to buck them, instead gambling on another Northside high school with low enrollment and a checkered history, Patrick Henry. (North and Henry are arch rivals, and played some wildly entertaining basketball games while I was a student. The prospect of there never being another one of those games is unfortunate by itself.) I don't know what North's attendance zone was in 1996, or if there was one, but I know for a fact that such a system was in place. Even without knowing what North's precise enrollment was in 1996, that last comment rings hollow to my ears.

It was Henry that had enrollment problems in the early 1990's, but it also had a small built-in clientele of affluent, mostly white students from the very outer edges of northwest Minneapolis bordering Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Center, as well as the city's newest outpost for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which was what drew me there, and what ultimately proved the school to be worth the substantial commute. They've recently started an IB program at North in hopes of attracting more students. It worked for Henry; according to this data, enrollment there topped out at 1,564 in 2003-04, which is about twice what it was when I got there seven years earlier. It seems they're not willing to give North that kind of time, though.

In the snippets of last night's school board meeting that I skimmed through today, I heard multiple references to "changing the culture" of North High in order to boost achievement. I never attended the school, and I haven't been in the building for years, so I can't speak to what kind of culture has grown up there, but the phrase bothers me anyway. It reeks of focus group naivete. I loved the culture on the Northside, though I could never truly call it my own, and I miss it in many ways. If North is a failing school, it's because the rest of us failed them. Closing the current school and reconstituting it with freshly minted focus group platitudes plastered on the walls isn't going to address the bigger issues at play here, but it's better than not having a high school on the near Northside at all, which would be criminal.

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