MINNEAPOLIS - Minneapolis Public Schools reports the beginning of a comeback for North Community High School, with student enrollment more than doubling in the second school year.
The school was reborn into a college prep high model with an arts and communications focus, known as the North Academy of Arts and Communications, or NAAC.
"Some of the biggest challenges were basically getting teachers to buy into the new North and getting families to buy into New North," said Dr. Shawn Harris-Berry, NAAC principal.
Three years ago, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson proposed closing the historic school because enrollment had declined from 1,100 students in 2004, to around 265 students in 2010. The community protested, and Johnson hired a New York based school turnaround consultant called the Institute for Student Achievement, which helped the district design a small school model.
"It's a very different approach in what you could typically see in a big box high school, and we are finding that within this model, having that one on one personal connection with our staff and families proves to be much more beneficial in terms of moving student achievement," said Michael Thomas, associate superintendent.
Today, NAAC has 158 students compared to the 67 students last year.
"I come from Fridley every day, it's like an hour and a half bus ride. But, it's worth it, because I like this school," said Malisia Vaughn, a freshman, who says her sister had such a good experience at the school last year, she decided to try it for herself.
Dr. Harris-Berry says she's most proud of the academic gains so far. She reports last year, 71 percent of students passed a ninth grade writing test, meeting a district standard. She also said 47 percent of students gained a year's growth in math, and 57 percent gained a year's growth in reading.
"We really believe if you have close relationships with students you can push them academically and so we know all our students by name," she said.
The school currently only consists of freshman and sophomores. The North Community High School Senior Academy operates separately, and has approximately 100 holdover students from the old school model, which will phase out as they graduate.
By 2016, the new NAAC will have freshman through senior classes, but plans to cap enrollment at about 400 students, with 100 per class to keep sizes small.
"They want us to go to college and they will help us get there," said freshman Allie Hopkins. "If one kid is failing, they will talk to you about what we need to do to raise your grade up. I like that. At my old school, they didn't do that, if you fail, you fail."
Successes in the second school year also include the momentum of the football team. The Polars are currently in first place in the section, breaking offensive records. Last year, the team finished sixth in the section out of eight teams.
Eventually, NAAC plans to add other sports, and focuses besides the arts and communications, and will be looking for community input, whether it's medical or science.
School leaders believe it's the beginning of building the true new North.
"I see myself as a barrier mover, moving barriers out of the way for students, moving barriers out of way for teachers so they can have a conducive learning environment," said Dr. Harris-Berry. "We are making it happen."
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