Thursday, October 14, 2010

North High School Reaction by Chanda Smith Baker

Chanda Smith Baker, school board candidate, ©Mary Hanson Photography 2010

 The whole city has been in a flurry about North High. Its future. Its past. Its failures and its successes.  I just want to take a minute to share and repost something written by school board candidate Chanda Smith Baker.  I hope each and everyone of you reading this, that lives in the city, will turn out on November 2nd and give Chanda one of your school board votes.  To me, it's the most important vote of this year.  Our state senator and our congressman are extremely likely to win their elections, the NoMi state rep incumbents seem secure.  And the school board at large candidates have very tight battles on their hands.  So if you can send some money, give some time and get out the vote for Chanda Smith Baker, it will be a very well placed vote.

This commentary was written by Chanda and first shared on her facebook page.  I'm reposting it here for those that don't follow her on facebook or don't use facebook.

North High School Reaction

by Chanda Smith Baker

The potential of North High closing has stirred up emotions in an unexpected way.  I was very well aware of the low enrollment and the many challenges North has faced over the last several years.  Last year, I met and spoke with several staff and leadership at North after they received notice that they were facing consequences due to the school being identified as a persistently low performing school.  The consequences included four choices; two of the choices meant significant turnover in staff and one was for the school to close.  We talked strategy and the decision was made to turnover staff at the school. 

This year I attended the open house for incoming students and the auditorium was fuller than expected with many supportive community members in attendance to welcome in the freshman students, all 47 of them.  Again, another sign that North was in serious trouble.  Despite the warning signs and my understanding that North closing was a real possibility, the superintendents announcement and recommendation to phase out North High and close it in three years was met with a heavy heart. 

 I am a fourth generation graduate of North High, the class of 1989.  North High is a mixture of memories of my favorite teachers, Ms Gregory, the librarian who recommended more books than I will ever remember, Brownie Lake field trips, basketball games, and where I met some very dear friends.  My late Uncle Richard Green was both a teacher and principal there, it is part of my family history. It is a place that is close to my heart and holds many memories for me, my family and my friends.  

The personal memories and my commitment to improve outcomes for all students have met head on.  The fact is North High School represents "community" and is a school that connects many of us in Minneapolis. This connection is what makes a strong community school, the connection and the love for North is an unspoken- underestimated factor. The loyalty to North seems to have tipped the scale towards blind loyalty- and we have collectively failed the students and families in North Minneapolis.  The same loyalty and commitment if directed and focused could create a stronger school and better academic results.

This recommendation came as a result of years of disinvestment and an overall lack of accountability and leadership. Currently, there are 267 students attending North High school.  There are fiscal realities that must be addressed and waiting too long without a solid and sustainable solution is a risk that would impact the entire district.  I understand why superintendent Johnson made a recommendation. I do not agree with how it was communicated and I do not believe closing North is a solution that should be made without community input and without a comprehensive plan for families.   In addition, the first publicized effort to "fix" North should not  have been to close it and as a result it has kicked up a large community debate and response.

I have a sensitivity on school closings  and a perspective that is unique.  I remember clearly when my uncle Richard and the school board announced the closing of 18  school closings in the 1980's.  I can vividly recall the emotions, the heated discussions, the frustration, particularly related to closing of Central High school in South Minneapolis. My uncle (and the board) closed  Central, the school my father (his brother) graduated from. It was a stressful time to say the least.   I know that the recommendation  to close North did not come easy and the superintendent came into a sinking situation and decisions have to be made. Having said that, I am not impressed with how the administration and the school board handled this announcement and recommendation to close North.  The district has to improve its communication and relationship with the community, particularly in North Minneapolis.  

The other major concern is academic achievement.  The superintendent stated that this is a moral issue and that she can not ignore the lack of academic progress for students at North High.  This is a valid point and the elimination of the achievement gap is the districts top priority.  In this context, the question becomes does closing North improve academic outcomes for students?  The answer is not clear. Moreover, if closing schools becomes the solution then what does that say.  There have been many changes and school closings, yet the gap has gotten wider.  The displacement of students is not an adequate response alone and has been proven not to work. 

Based on the enrollment numbers, North High has the best teacher to student ratios of all of the high schools.  Research has pointed out that smaller classrooms are ideal for student success.  If this is true and I believe it is, something is not lining up.  There are students at North who are doing exceptionally well.  In the student body: 20% proficient in reading; 8 % in math; and 4 % in science and we should celebrate their accomplishments.  On the other hand,  80% are not proficient in reading, 92% in math are not proficient and 96% are not proficient in science that is an extreme concern and we have to come together to figure out what our students need.   

Keeping North open will not improve outcomes for all students, unless there is a strong comprehensive plan in place.  A plan that includes commitment, multiple measures to evaluate effectiveness and accountability. This is a time for leadership.

This is a benchmark moment in our community.  It will either document the end of an era with the closing of North or it will be the time when our community comes together despite our differing opinions to not only save North, but to save our children. 
Please vote for Chanda for school board on November 2nd.


  1. There appear to be 2 major issues:
    One financial, one achievement, the financial part comes little from home and mostly the community at large, the achievement starts at home and melds into the community at large, the community at large has a large effect on the financial side and a much less effect on achievement side than mom, dad and the home life.

  2. Pond-dragon you make good points. If the achievement side was in a much different place, it would have such a major difference on the whole picture. Likely that students wouldn't be fleeing away from North High as they have been, therefore the financial side would be in a much different place and likely the whole issue would not be an issue.

  3. This was so well put and not only illustrates the depth of understanding of this difficult problem of low enrollment and poor performance in North High but is also a call out for the community to come together to figure this out and to have the will to do something about it.

    I voted for Chanda Smith Baker in the primary and I am convinced she has the intellectual capacity as well as the passion to serve on the school board.

    How many issues are we facing in this country indeed in our community on the Northside? I personally feel lost in a maze at times. Where do I put my efforts and talents? What is my responsibility as community member and citizen of this great country? What is my responsibility to North High?

    My husband and I moved to the Northside in the early ‘80s. We wanted a nice period home within our budget. At that time Jordan School had just been closed and it was pretty obvious why. 80% of our neighbors were elderly. The demographics didn’t support the school at that time. That should not be the case now. However, a major difference is the transient nature and instability of many of the families with children on the Northside at the present time. Many of these children have issues, behavior problems, learning disabilities and a lack of parent support are a few of the obvious ones. As parents we are responsible for making decisions regarding the welfare of our children and that includes choosing a school where they are most likely to flourish in preparation for adulthood. We chose to send our daughter to a private school for that reason. In our opinion, North had slipped too much to consider. It is similar to the low standards accepted in this community and indeed this country. Now we will have to figure out what a healthy and sustainable economy, country and community looks like. There is a lot of fear around that because it certainly means change. Who will lead?

    We have leadership in our highest office, president Barak Obama, all the way down to the local level in our council member Don Samuels. These are leaders with courage, passion and intelligence. Do we have the courage and passion also to do what is needed during these difficult times. They are trying to guide us but we balk at their solutions because they are difficult, challenge us and don’t promise immediate success. The issues we are facing didn’t happen over night and they won’t be solved over night either. We need to develop a plan and have the persistence and drive to follow through on the plan step by step. I think Mr. Canada is on the right track because we cannot even begin to solve the problem with North schools until you address the poverty and inequity of so many of the children and families. Yes that will take time and lots of persistence as well as anything each one of us has the ability to offer.

    Perhaps North High will have to be closed temporarily. If so, that doesn’t mean we should give up. I am convinced Ms Baker as a school board representative will not. Now is the time, along with the rest of the country to get off our butts and do what is needed to re-create a healthy and sustainable community here on the Northside together, every single one of us! United as a community we are strong and we can do it.

  4. Hello NoMi Passenger. I made a promise that when i respond on your blog site i will behave in a respectful manner.I will keep that promise and also add that i think your site is great and you truly enjoy living in North Minneapolis.The proof is in the pudding and you are Jell-O brand,the best,bar none when it comes to writing in a communal manner.With that said i will state that there were alot of us that attended Public schools that were dirt poor and we still survived because we were cared about.Simple as that.We were financially much worse off than alot of folks are nowadays in this entitlement ridden society.Poor has been around along time and comes in many different pigmentations.People always try to blame it on hard times.I have been around a while and am at that age where you are not young anymore to speak of but not a crusty entity quite yet.Kind of like an intermediary and quite a unique position that is attained only by not dying.I comprehend both sides of age,pigmentation,monetary status,and the aroma of the honey-dew wagon that cleaned the sewers in Seoul.I detect what is being sold to us are the contents of said honey-dew wagon.Thank you and keep up the good work,NoMi Passenger.