Superintendent Julio Almanza laid down the gauntlet Tuesday. Either the
people of Duluth have to pony up significant new money by voting for a
multimillion-dollar operating levy -- or the school district has to
close high schools.
Let's face it. Duluth does not have the school-age population and
financial resources to sustain three high schools.
Let's face the challenge of creating a new high school system. Let's
create a plan for one high school that draws upon the oldest Duluth High
Almanza has proposed a five-year transition to one high school. Close
one high school next year. Close another within five years. Remodel
Central High School or build a new high school for the one-high school
system. This is the right direction. The School Board and community
should support it.
The fact is, Duluth had one high school until its population reached
90,000. High schools were added because people expected the city would
grow to 200,000.
Today, our population is below 90,000 -- as it has been for 20 years.
Yet, Duluth continues to support three comprehensive high schools -- as
if the city were at its peak population of 106,000 and growing toward
We've known for some time that this is unsustainable.
But as a community we've avoided difficult decisions. Instead we've
opted to close elementary schools to keep open three high schools. In
the past 20 years, we've closed 16 elementary schools. Over that same
period, we've lost 4,000 high school students, but still we've kept open
three high schools.
Better to keep open our neighborhood and magnet elementary schools --
building on a future in Duluth -- and close high schools, if we want to
keep and attract young families to Duluth. Neighborhood and magnet
elementary schools provide the small scale that help younger children
The fact is, high schools are the most expensive schools to operate
in any school system. You'd have to close several elementary schools to
achieve the savings you could get by closing high schools.
A majority of Duluth school district's principals and program
administrators wrote a letter to the school board and Superintendent
Julio Almanza several months ago supporting a one-high-school vision:
"Having one campus would serve as a uniting force in Duluth
and would also allow us to offer students many more learning options
on-site, so that all of our young people have the chance to prepare for
the future they choose. One new high school campus would also allow
Duluth to maintain a larger number of schools for younger students
within the district and still work within the financial resources we
will have, as we become a small district."
Let's be creative about how to continue using the Denfeld and East
buildings as we move to one high school. Going to one high school does
not -- we repeat, does not -- have to mean shuttering Denfeld and East.
A March 2001 "Point of View" column on these pages offers
some good suggestions:
A single, centrally located Duluth High School would serve juniors
and seniors. The column suggested two possibilities for the other two
current high school buildings: Have grades seven and eight at East and
grades nine and 10 at Denfeld, keeping all students together. The other
would be to create two schools with grades seven through 10. Denfeld,
with its beautiful auditorium, could offer specialized performing arts
The beauty of this approach, the column continued, is that
"instantly, economic and racial balance issues disappear. School
boundaries are permanent. Parents can buy any house they want, without
worrying about where school lines may be drawn years down the
As discussion about a one-high-school system proceeds, don't get
stuck into rigid grade configurations -- kindergarten through
fifth-grade elementaries (which have contributed to closing our
elementary schools by taking away sixth-graders), sixth- through
eighth-grade middle schools, ninth- through 12th-grade high schools. Be
When Duluth had one high school, that one high school was Old
Central, a landmark architectural statement and a testament to the
city's aspirations for its youth.
A return to one high school could again be a grand statement of
educational and community purpose in Duluth.
Let's embrace the idea of a united, all-inclusive, centrally located
Duluth High School -- a fitting vision for a community of 90,000 people.
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