UPDATE 5/6/2015: Since this article was published, we’ve received the following update from Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS):
“MPS Chief of Schools Michael Thomas, in consultation with community partners and school leadership, has decided to delay the program’s launch until fall of the 2016-17 school year. North’s principal Shawn Harris-Berry supports the decision to move the Summatech launch to fall 2016, and North’s site council approved this decision through a vote.
Franklin Middle School remains on track to begin classes at the start of the 2015-16 school year and will send its first group of students to North/Summatech in 2016 as planned. Because the STEM academic programs at Franklin and North need to work together, taking the time to start Summatech in 2016 will provide students with a smooth transition between schools.
North will also use this time to identify external partners in both the private sector and educational fields to provide resources, services, internships and college and career support to round out the Summatech academic experience. This one-year pause gives all parties involved (Franklin, North and MPS) time to ensure that Summatech’s foundation is solid and the academic program is fully developed.”
Principals envision a grades 6-12 educational continuum
A new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus will be fully introduced this fall at both North Community High School and, a few blocks away, at the “new” Franklin Middle School. North Principal Shawn Harris-Berry and Franklin Principal Karon Cunningham are working collaboratively across the schools.
There was a strong relationship back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s” between the two schools, recalls Harris-Berry, a 27-year Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) veteran. Since then, however, both schools have undergone major changes. North now is a “small college-preparatory” high school with nearly 300 students.
“[It] is not a big box school. Everybody knows you by name,” proclaims North’s principal. Its new STEM program, which replaces the school’s former Summatech program, is now called North Summatech Academy.
“We want kids [who] leave the Summatech program to be in the position where they canchoose where they want to go based on their desire and not based on their limitation. We are preparing our kids for a different world. We are preparing kids for jobs that are not even around [yet],” notes Harris-Berry.
Franklin, with its “strong STEM” emphasis along with foreign language and arts, reopens this fall as a middle school for students in grades six-eight. The current school building is now being completely renovated and is expected to be ready when school starts in late August.
It will serve as “a direct feeder [school]” to North, says Cunningham. “Our vision is very much aligned with North. We want to make sure that the students that leave Franklin in eighth grade and come to North to start off their ninth grade…are prepared,” she adds.
Cunningham calls the new Franklin-North partnership “a 6-12 continuum.”
“Why is it going to be greater?” asks Harris-Berry. “First of all, we have different types of students now, so we have to meet the needs of all of our students. [And] because we know more about teaching and learning now than we did back in the day. We are letting people know that it won’t look exactly like it used to look.”
The two school leaders “went to high school together” back in Milwaukee, says Cunningham. “We have a trusting relationship… We have similar beliefs, and recognize that intelligence is not the issue. The fact that we have known each other for 20 years, and we know the high school we went to [was] a rigorous high school, we know we can replicate that same type of environment for our kids in the inner city.
“I want Franklin to be a school that’s in North Minneapolis that the community can be proud of. They can expect a rigorous curriculum, high expectations for students and staff alike,” pledges Cunningham.
“The STEM focus [at Franklin] will help students be successful when they come to North, whether they follow the Summatech route or the arts and communications route,” adds Harris-Berry.
Asked if they both will hire staff that reflect their majority-students-of-color population [56 percent Black and 29 percent Asian for Franklin; 90 percent Black at North], Cunningham responds, “We recognize that is needed. The most important thing is [that] whatever color you are, whatever culture you come from, are you effective in your field? Are you a master teacher? Do you have high expectations for students?”
“Yes, it would be nice to have more African American teachers for the purpose of role modeling” as well as Blacks in leadership roles, adds Harris-Berry. “But whether or not [Black students] are going to learn more — does that African American teacher have the relationships, have high expectations? Does that African American teacher care about them and go that extra yard?”
Although Franklin is not opened yet, Cunningham wants her incoming students and their parents to know about the numerous academic opportunities planned for the school. “We have to make sure that we are providing the support for them to be successful,” she notes.
“What we do here, we do well,” boasts Harris-Berry of North High. “Our students are successful here at North not because the work is easier, but it’s the support systems and safety nets that we put in place.”
North has “a high standard of learning,” says the principal. “We can produce quality. It’s a misconception that we cannot.” She therefore invites community folk, whether they have school-age children or not, as well as parents whose children are enrolled in schools “in the suburbs and other parts of the city,” to visit the school. “I can show them more than I can tell them,” she says.
“We are the pride of the North Side,” Harris-Berry concludes. “I think it’s important that the community see a viable, healthy middle school and high school in their community. If the high school is healthy, the community is healthy. If the middle school is healthy, the high school will be healthy. It’s all interconnected.
“We are rebuilding something new, and [the community] can expect something new and greater this time around.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.