North High gets new lease on life

Bernadeia Johnson
Scott Redd -Photos by Charles Hallman

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer

After a year of uncertainty, North High School is making plans for the upcoming school year this fall. Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson told the MSR last week that the community must do its part to ensure its success now that the city’s oldest high school is staying open.

“We’ve had hundreds of people come out to meetings about not to close North High,” she points out. “What we have to do is figure out how to bring all this passion and energy together, and continue to look at things not only to build up another strong school on the North Side, but [for] the community to figure out how to build up a strong community.”

MPS Executive Director of Family and Community Engagement Scott Redd says that the trust factor between some community members and the district is slowly building. “This is some tough work that the superintendent is leading, but they understand how she is making her decisions, and she is getting plenty of feedback. From what I am hearing in the community, it is starting to build on that road of trust.

“There always will be some naysayers,” Redd points out, “and I think some folk don’t do [the MPS] justice on the good things that are happening. But I think we have our supporters and folk who are continuing to work with us.”

Originally hired this spring to work on rebuilding North High beginning in fall 2012, the New York-based Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) will instead begin work with an incoming ninth-grade class at North this fall.

“My original recommendation was not to bring in ninth graders and phase the school out,” explains the superintendent. “Then I said I will find someone to work with the school. The reason why ISA was selected was because they would bring in a new ninth grade class in 2012, and they would work with the kids in 10th, 11th and 12th grade classes to make sure that they have the support they need while they are phasing out the high school.”

But after listening to community residents, and after a five-month concerted effort by a North advisory group to recruit families with children going into ninth grade this fall, Johnson eventually reversed herself. Her reversal was also influenced by learning that if a 2011 freshman class wasn’t in place, North’s varsity athletics would be affected. “Not having a ninth-grade class this year going into 2011 would mean there wouldn’t be a 10th class next year [in 2012], and wouldn’t be a varsity team.”

ISA officials were in town last weekend to meet with MPS staff and others, a follow-up to a small contingent from Minneapolis that visited ISA schools in New York City for two days in May. “We took a group out there to see what those ISA schools look like,” recalls Redd.

“We also looked at how they went about recruiting, marketing, and how they get community to buy in to the schools. Another thing we saw was an extended day and extended school year. The students are there from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night doing meaningful work, projects, and things that really interest them.”

The six ISA schools visited, located in the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn, “have a culture of excellence,” claims Redd. “The students are supporting each other. The teachers are supporting the kids.”

A second trip to New York is being planned for members of North faculty and staff sometime this summer, he says. “What I see in New York will be something to give our kids at North the opportunity to be prepared to go on to that next step — college,” believes Redd.

But MPS can’t rebuild North High School alone, Johnson admits. “Everyone has a role to play in this work. It’s not just the district’s responsibility, or just the community’s, or the parents’ or students’, but everybody’s.

“We are going to be calling on broader representation across the community to do things like give kids internship opportunities. We need to have wrap-around services for these students, especially now with not knowing what will happen because of the tornado disaster.”

The North students will need mentors as well, says the superintendent. “I will make a personal commitment to one student. I am going to identify a student in ninth grade, preferably a female student, and I am going to mentor that person from ninth to 12th grade,” Johnson pledges. “I will be checking on that person’s homework, making sure that they are in school and making sure they have what they need.

“We are going to ask the community to step up and do the same,” says Johnson.

“I’m predicting that North High School will be a high-achieving school, and in the next two to three years [North] will have a waiting list and be a school of choice where folk will be lining up and banging down the doors to get in,” says Redd.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.