This school situation really gets under a person's skin. Even now, it makes me angry.
Fortunately now I can say what I think.Below is a piece I wrote for the Ripsaw. I don't know if they'll have room in next week's issue, but I thought you'd be interested. It's long, but this isn't an easy situation. I like the idea of this being a challenge. The one high school plan offers all the excitement of building a new school without the cost. Everyone gets involved and incorporates pieces of all the schools.
We'll see what people think.
Do you have xxxxxx's e-mail address?
Wake up, Duluth. Itís time to have one high school.
I know. I know. The only things in Duluth more pervasive than zebra
mussels are politicians and solutions for the Duluth School Districtís
I canít do anything about the politicians. But give me a couple of
minutes on this school thing before you head for the personal ads. At
least youíll have something new to talk to the protesters about while
youíre smoking on your way into your favorite coffee shop.
There really is a way to solve the Solomon-like dilemma the Duluth
School Board faces over which families to sacrifice for the sake of
the others. Like Solomon, board members must listen to the parents,
but must do what really is best for children.
To appease parents 20 years ago Morgan Park High School became a
junior high instead of an elementary school. It also became the reason
todayís Piedmont parents are screaming about driving to Morgan Park
instead of to a more centrally located building.
Itís time to try something new.
Itís time to create one secondary school ó on three campuses.
It wonít save all the money needed, but it goes a long way by
optimizing class scheduling, staff training, activities and resources.
And, in the one thing that seems to matter in this town, it instantly
creates a kick-ass hockey program that will let students wear their
letter jackets with pride as they stroll through the Mall of America.
Yes, we can have our cake and eat it, too. (Sorry, I couldnít help
Seriously, this plan lets everyone win, and sets up the district for
the future, instead of continuing a crisis that by my calculations has
lasted far more than 20 years. Thatís not a crisis, itís political
hypochondria. Things are tough, but not that tough.
When I moved here 13 years ago from the Chicago area, I spent my first
years as a reporter covering the last round of school closings and
researching earlier ones ó and I have waited for this day ever since.
I was blown away then by the bogus enrollment projections and blatant
political pressure. I was blown away by the intolerance between
indistinguishable groups of blonde, blue-eyed Midwesterners.
Most of all, I was blown away by school officials who freely admitted
they were making bad decisions but didnít have the stomach for the
threats and ugliness they endured when they spoke their true feelings.
The hard fact is that 10 years ago, there was no school district in
Minnesota the size of Duluth with three public high schools, let alone
all the public and private choices here.
There still isnít.
As long as people see change as winning and losing, the stalemate will
Instead, take all the students in grades seven through 12 and send
them to East for the first two years, Denfeld for the second two years
and Central for the final two years. Hang all the old banners and
school colors from the rafters of all the buildings, create a hall of
fame in each one and then have everyone who cares help create a snappy
new team logo, school song, and most importantly, new programs.
Think of it.
Duluth High School.
The Zeniths, maybe. The Dylans. The Renegades. The Bongs. Whatever.
Fights over boundaries disappear, along with artificially engineered
economic, racial and ethnic balances. Neighbors of East regain their
parking places and lose tons of litter.
Parking around Denfeld is easier, yet freshmen and sophomores still
are old enough to have and spend money, maintaining their economic
impact in the neighborhoodbusiness district.
Juniors and seniors are brought together in the building with the
largest campus, the most advanced technical facilities ó and a parking
area that can be supervised and doesnít impose on anyone.
At last, parents can buy the right house, not the right neighborhood.
All the families in the district share the same facilities, teaching
staff and driving inconveniences. The rest of us are finally spared
the pointless and mean-spirited arguments over whose academic programs
are the best, whose students are smartest, whose grades are the most
inflated and whose halls are safest. Itís put up or shut up.
Where are the savings? Having all the students in two grades in the
same building allows the most flexibility and efficiency in
scheduling, planning and staff training. Not focusing so much money on
travel and other expenses involved in three varsity sports and
academic programs can be used to build one good one and an array of
less expensive intramural and life activities. Imagine high school
kayaking, rock climbing and reggae music. Teachers splitting time
between two or three buildings are paid for teaching, not driving.
Security and discipline costs decrease. Bus schedules are simplified.
Library and other redundancies are eliminated.
Now, get rid of the seven-period day and offer the six periods the
state actually pays the district to provide. Create a system to offer
the extra advanced classes for the students who really need to have
them and charge tuition, with scholarships for kids who canít afford
them. If the district doesnít want to do it, let the universities,
community colleges or Edison do it on campus.
Grade schools go back to grades kindergarten through sixth grade, or
in some cases primary and intermediate configurations. Create a triage
system to work with the cityís comprehensive plan. Decide the most
important locations for family neighborhoods and make them the
priority for school locations. Maybe a new school is built and another
turned into housing over time to reflect the best way to achieve the
goals. Maybe schools are created to include housing, health care,
community programs and businesses.
Any plan must be tied to enrollment and reviewed each year with the
budget. Everyone knows the building at the bottom of the list and the
enrollment level that will trigger a closing. No surprises.
Then, get the budget back on track, quit crying wolf and get a life.
At no time in the last week have any of the discussions touched on how
the cost of making families happy will be balanced against equally
legitimate needs for more public transportation, parks, roads, judges,
housing, you name it. And the fact that everyone at the hearings
opposed the closings only means that people who support the closings
donít want to deal with the hassle of trying to have a discussion in
the middle of a pep rally.
The comprehensive planning process is a good forum to have all the
interest groups in the community talk about whatís best for everyone.
So letís quit saying no and start saying how.
Soon, normal life will go on.
Even with one high school, senior boys still will find a way to date
Some kids will go to college and some wonít.
A few will fight in the halls.
But if weíre lucky, we wonít have to watch their parents do the same.
Anne Bretts is managing editor of BusinessNorth, a regional businesspublication, and BusinessNorth.com, its online edition. Like Andrew Slade, she is expressing her own views, not those of her employer. Unlike Andrew Slade, she will not lose her job. Her publisher respects her right to free speech.
And he knows sheís got the computers programmed to crash if sheleaves.