Thursday, November 4, 2010

MEL REEVES: Stand with North High students to save their school

An open letter to the community

As most folks know by now, there has been a recommendation to close Minneapolis North High School. However, 265 young people have taken a stand and have committed to fight to keep their school open, and a few hundred community folks and teachers have stood with them and, in some cases, stood in for them.

If these children have the intestinal fortitude to stand up for themselves, then who are the rest of us not to stand with them?

What’s important for the community to know is that North High has not closed, and despite rumors about what “they” are talking about doing, there has only been a recommendation. So, many of your fellow community members have rolled up their sleeves and begun to organize protests and other tactics and strategies to ensure the school stays open.

Some say we ought to just give up, and that the closing of North is a bygone fact. Pessimism and fatalism are perfectly understandable, considering the David and Goliath relationship we have with the “system,” with the community usually playing the role of David. We have a history of bad and sometimes racist policies shoved down our throats.

So it makes sense that some folks are apathetic. But Biblical scholars would tell you that the Davids win every once in a while, and they don’t win by not fighting!

In fact, it appears that it was the protest by more than a few hundred parents, students and community members that caused the board to take a more conciliatory approach and agree in principle to work with the community on a proposal that would enable North to stay open. For the record, the protesters did so in a very dignified and disciplined manner.

What may pass for undignified and even disingenuous conduct are Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s claims about why she suggested that North be closed.

While the superintendent said that North’s enrollment was too low to sustain it, it was the Minneapolis School Board that turned North into a relatively small 500-student school.

It was the school board that failed to promote North while taking away its more attractive programs. And there are persistent rumors that some parents were in fact discouraged from sending their kids to North.

The superintendent also failed to inform folks that North High, unlike the other schools, did not have a “home zone.” That means that even kids living across the street from North were not required to go there, but were assigned to Henry instead.

It’s also important to note that nearly half of the students at North are in the high-achieving International Baccalaureate Program. Despite rumors to the contrary, the vast majority of the 265 are not failing; only five to 10 percent of the students are struggling academically.

And while there has been much fanfare about bringing in the Noble Charter Schools, they are not even close to the panacea they promise to be.

According to a national study — the CREDO study conducted by Stanford University — only 17 percent of all charter schools actually exceed the performance of the public schools they replaced, and 37 percent performed worse than the public schools they replaced. The other 46 percent remained at the same level as the public schools.

Sports teams that find themselves behind late in the game spend little to no time looking back. Instead they focus on the task at hand — winning the game — which in our case is reaching the goal of keeping North High open. In the same sense, pointing fingers at parents, the community and the students at this point does no one any good. Either help us win or stay on the bench (preferably quietly).

Historically, finger-pointing and naysaying only encourages our enemies, as
evidenced by the Star Tribune’s article entitled “Loving North from afar.”

The story, written with the help of Strib hatchet man Steve Brandt, is a prevarication and a not-so-subtle slap in the face that somehow blames the Northside community for the failure of the Minneapolis School Board.

And make no mistake, it has always been protest in some form or other that has helped win struggles in the past. Those who are criticizing the protests only prove that they are poor students of history.

History indicates that all of the progress that has been made by Black folks in this country, as well as others, have indeed come ultimately through some form of protest. I am reminded of the words of Frederick Douglass, who said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

They have closed Lincoln, Willard, and too many other schools. Shouldn’t we say, “No more”? Join the young people who have said they want to be educated in this city, by this school board, at this high school. History should record that the Northside community stood with them.

Mel Reeves is a longtime political and community activist who lives in Minneapolis. He welcomes reader responses to

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