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JJ Legacy School secures building in time for new year

JJ Legacy has moved into Family Baptist Church after Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church evicted the school in July.

MINNEAPOLIS — For students and staff of the Legacy of Dr. Josie R. Johnson Montessori, or simply JJ Legacy, the new school year means a fresh start. 

Back in July, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church evicted the school following years of conflict over the building's conditions and rent payments. 

School leaders weren't sure if they'd have a new space for the new year but secured one at Family Baptist Church in north Minneapolis just in time for an open house last Wednesday and the first day of school Tuesday for pre-K and kindergarten. All grades are scheduled to resume Wednesday this week.

"We're waiting, we're waiting," teachers said to the children following a lunch period featuring cheeseburgers and chatter. "Come on, friends. Bring your waterfalls, bring your waterfalls. Here we go. Shh."

School co-founder and head of school Tonicia Abdur Salaam says she and employees only had four days to prepare.

"Two days to move the stuff in and two days to actually get the building set up," Abdur Salaam said.

She thanks her mother and brothers for helping. And while the new building is smaller than the last, Abdur Salaam says the school didn't get to use the entire space it was renting in the last building anyway because of the building's condition.

She gave KARE 11 a tour beginning in the entryway.

"This is a picture of Dr. Josie R. Johnson — she is the namesake of our school," Abdur Salaam said before entering a classroom, "and you'll see that we have the 'Zones of Regulation' where the children actually get to learn how to navigate their feelings. Every classroom has one. We also do a 'try three then me,' so if you and your friend are having an issue, we ask that you two try three times before you come find an adult, and so building in those skills to be able to navigate when you are having conflict with your friends because we all know life is full of conflict."

Conflict: The school experienced it while renting from Our Lady of Victory. The years-long battle over the state of the building and who was responsible for fixing its various problems resulted in the eviction less than two months before fall. Abdur Salaam says building conditions gradually got worse over time.

"We have repeatedly pointed out to school leadership that most of the building conditions issues that they have identified are in fact the responsibility of JJL under the charter school lease that governs these questions for both the school and the parish," Our Lady of Victory parochial administrator Rev. Michael Tix said in a statement at the time.

The community rallied in response.

"We actually took some of the posters that the children made for the protest and we put it up and it was important for us to put it up because we wanted the children to remember the power of their voice," Abdur Salaam said. "What's really beautiful is there was a note left to us by Family Baptist that just says, 'We are so sad to hear how you've been hurt and not cared for in the past. Please know we welcome you here. Family Baptist will care for you in this building, 2023.'"

The rest of the school is adorned with affirmations and staffed with role models like teacher Mr. O.

"This is the one space where I've been allowed to be my authentic self and to bring all of my past to help students learn," the U.S. Army veteran and semi-pro football player said.

Employee and parent Daeona Griffin says the school's teaching style turned around the life of her young son, who'd been acting out, likely due to boredom.

"We used to have to like literally carry him into the classroom," Griffin said. "He was coming to second grade, he was reading closer to a fourth-grade reading level and he was doing math closer to like a fourth-grade reading level … This was the first school that we can test him, really understand his talents and how gifted he truly was."

After all, this school of around 100 is small enough to pay attention to individual needs and is named after a civil rights leader who overcame conflict, too.


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