In a decision process that began in the spring district officials have decided to close seven Minneapolis Schools at the end of the current school year. The debate was an emotional one in which school officials claimed too few students and too many unused classrooms made the move necessary. Current enrollment in Minneapolis Schools is around 36,000, while classroom space exists to accommodate up to 50,000 students. This has led to the situation at Minneapolis Schools like Holland Community School. The north side elementary only enrolled 190 children in kindergarten through fifth grade during the 2006-2007 school year.
Operation Chief for Minneapolis Schools, Steve Liss, has stated that the north side of the district has lost 50% of its students in recent years. Overall enrollment in Minneapolis Schools has declined by 3,000 students in the last two years. But is this decision a necessity? Or is it partially driven by socioeconomic factors?
Community activist Al Flowers fought against the proposed closing because he claimed that his African American community was targeted, and that other parent groups had successfully lobbied against closings in more affluent Minneapolis Schools. Socio-economic factors, like parents who must work outside the home and can’t afford supplement enrichment, have factored into educational debates for decades.
Although sadness pervades many affected by the school closings, many seem to be resigned to the decision, and view it as best for the children. Losing the neighborhood feel and bussing children to other Minneapolis Schools creates anxiety for students, parents and teachers. Principals and teachers face different year-end assessments than usual. Typically this is the time of year that Minneapolis Schools reassess their student improvement plan and make changes for the upcoming year. Instead, educators in the closing schools will close out the current plans and move on to a new assignment and venue.
The Minneapolis Schools slated for closing are all on the north side of the city. Some will be combined while others will be re-organized into different grades. What will become of the empty buildings? That is still up in the air. Superintendent of Minneapolis Schools Thandiwe Peebles has no interest in selling the structures, but great ideas of how they could still help the struggling district. Possible suggestions include using the space for community centers or leasing it out to local colleges. Either use could provide benefits to Minneapolis Schools and its student population.
While the numbers of declining enrollment in Minneapolis Schools are shocking, the trend is a national one. School choice, urban flight, meager funding and natural decline of structures combine to put this issue at the forefront of the educational debate. With a presidential election on the horizon residents in the Minneapolis Schools’ district and around the nation will watch closely to see what results from decisions like this one.