Minneapolis Public Schools has a rich tradition of co-opting its critics. Frustrated parents tend to end up on the District Parent Advisory Committee. Exasperated employers end up adopting classrooms or stumping for referenda.
A plurality of board members at any given time first ran because, having crusaded against one or another wrongheaded proposition, they got to know the district better than many of its boosters.
Yet for years, two parts of the community have eluded the insider-making-machine: the state Legislature and the city’s near north side. The former might be a lost cause, at least for the moment, but tonight, in the auditorium at North High School, a few select northsiders are scheduled for induction into the fold.
In the wake of the community uproar over last fall’s now-reversed decision to shutter the venerated, depopulated school, district leaders promised to invite their critics to help design its replacement. Earlier this month, MPS asked for volunteers willing to advise redesign consultants from a New York-based nonprofit that specializes in community-led school turnarounds.
It would appear MPS brass got the loyal opponents they asked for, and they couldn’t be more pleased. Yesterday, the district announced the names of the nine committee members and four alternates who, along with five MPS administrators, will help the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) plan the new North High.
Four were chosen from 23 applications received by MPS; five were elected by the 40-plus audience members at a community forum last week.
“We wanted this to be a hands-off process,” said Director of School Improvement Eric Molho, who added that he was impressed with the “depth and breadth” of the applicants.
“When you have 200 people showing up at board meetings asking for things, you hope to have a lot of interest,” he said.
There are two former presidents of the Minneapolis NAACP, which in the 1990s sued the district for failing to provide poor kids with an adequate education: North alum Brett Buckner and Leola Seals (an alternate). Part of the suit’s settlement was the creation of The Choice is Yours program, under which hundreds of Minneapolis kids have been bused to suburban schools.
There are several members of an ad hoc coalition to save North including Marcus Owens (an alternate) and Rose Brewer who, as a University of Minnesota professor and a trustee of the St. Paul Academy and Summit School, presumably knows a little something about schools.
There’s Kale Severson of the North High Alumni Association, parents Ariah Fine and Susan Young and Kim Ellison, a high school math teacher whose name is usually associated with her ex’s. Former board member T. Williams will serve as an alternate, as will Buzzy Bohn, head of the Loring Media Center and a fixture on the MPS District Parent Advisory Committee.
The MPS administrators contacted for this story did not immediately have biographical information about the last two committee members, Deanna Williamson and Kerry Felder, or the fourth alternate, Erika dos Santos.
They’ll join Molho, MPS Associate Superintendent Mark Bonine, Executive Director of Family and Community Engagement Scott Redd and Director of Strategic Planning Maggie Sullivan. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson will be an ex-officio member.
“We’re serious about community engagement,” said Molho. “We’re trying to learn from our past mistakes.”
The panel’s members will scarcely have time to draw breath before they start work. The committee will hold its first official meeting tomorrow, while ISA staff are here.
Tonight, they and interested community members are invited to meet the ISA team at 6:30 p.m. in the North High School Auditorium. Two consultants will talk about the organization and its success working with other schools and hear from audience members.
Anyone who’d like to stay abreast of the redesign can sign up to receive email or phone updates by emailing email@example.com with the subject line “North redesign updates” or calling 612-668-0230.