North High supporters ready their recruiting effortsby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — For North High School in Minneapolis, a crucial deadline is now just three months away.
Supporters are working with the Minneapolis district to recruit 125 students to attend the school next year as ninth graders. They must do so by the end of March to ensure a ninth grade class for North next year.
The Minneapolis school board set the deadline last month, giving one last chance to a school that was nearly closed.
Marcus Owens, a 1999 graduate of North High, is one of those trying to save the school.
Owens' day-to-day job at Target Corp. is not education-related, but his nightlife since October has included plenty of schooling.
Last week, he was at a community center near North High, running a meeting of north siders and other school supporters.
The group is called the North High Community Coalition. A large part of that group is the "Friends of North," which until recently mostly raised money for student scholarships and grants for teachers. This fall, it took on a new role: Trying to save the school by recruiting new students.
"We can get this done," said Owens. "There's no doubt in my mind with the energy that's still there, that this is going to get done."
Back in October, superintendent Bernadeia Johnson sounded what appeared to be the death knell for North High.
"After careful consideration, I'm bringing to the board a recommendation to close North High School in three years," she said at a school board meeting on Oct. 12.
She argued that the closure was warranted because of North's anemic enrollment and poor student performance. Just 265 students are enrolled this year, and just 8 percent of them are proficient in math.
The recommendation sparked vocal community opposition. Marcus Owens was among those who rallied hundreds to speak out at a series of meetings this fall. He often wore his North High varsity jacket to those meetings. The crowds regularly spilled out into overflow spaces.
The outcry included pleas that the community be enlisted to help save North. The school board ultimately modified the plan, which now calls for a new North -- to be designed by the community and open in 2012.
Current students can keep attending North. And in the time between the current and new North, a new class of ninth graders will only be allowed next year if 125 students enroll. It's a tall order. North has only had 125 or more freshmen in three of the past 30 months.
Booker Hodges, president of the Minneapolis NAACP chapter, isn't sure it can be done. Hodges says he thinks the district is still setting the north side up to fail.
"It is reasonable for a parent not to want to send a kid to a school when they're uncertain if that school is going to remain open," said Hodges, "if they're uncertain the district is committed to the school, and if they're uncertain their child is going to receive inadequate programming."
Hodges says he still stands by his call in October for parents to remove their children from district schools.
The district disputes any suggestion that it's not committed to finding those 125 students, even though its original recommendedation was closure.
"I can understand how people would think that, but we want to be out there," said associate superintendent Mark Bonine. "We've actually met a number of times with Marcus and the Friends of North. We're in this to get the students."
Bonine notes that all current eighth graders get to visit city high schools to help them make their choice, and they've all visited North -- something that didn't happen last year, according to the school's advocates.
The district is also paying to print brochures or any other handouts that Friends of North needs. More open houses are also being planned, but are not yet scheduled.
The Minneapolis teachers' union has also pledged to help.
"It will be an uphill battle. They're going to have to really work hard," said union president Lynn Nordgren. "It truly is a grass-roots organization, and I totally believe in them."
For Marcus Owens, the battle to save North is personal.
"I have kids, and if I'm going to live in a city, I would like them to walk to school like I walked to school. I would like to get them the same education that I was alloted," he said.
Owens and the supporters trying to save North will be more public with their efforts, starting yet this week. That's when they'll start knocking on doors on the city's north side, looking for students.