Thursday, June 30, 2016

Low enrollment among reasons school board decided to close Northside HIgh School

Phyllis Randolph, a Northside High School graduate and retired schoolteacher
who once taught at the school, is fighting to keep her alma mater from closing
(Photo by Wiley Henry)
     Phyllis Randolph and Michael Adrian Davis had three minutes each to convince the Shelby County Schools board to keep Northside High School open during a special call meeting on Tuesday night, June 21. But their passionate plea was not enough to stave off the inevitable.
Northside’s doors will not be open for the 2016-17 school year. The board voted 5-3 to close the school, reversing a one-year reprieve the board granted in May. Students will be rezoned for Manassas High School, a little more than a mile away.
Board member Scott McCormick motioned to close Northside immediately, citing a number of reasons for reversing the board’s decision to keep the school open for a year: the transfer of all but four teachers; an enrollment of 36 students verses 190 in 2015.
“For these reasons, I asked the board to reconsider our decision to close Northside…and to go ahead and make it effective for this year,” said McCormick, noting that the delay of Northside’s closing had become a recruitment tool for charter schools.
“We have to think about the best interest of all the students,” said board member Chris Caldwell, who asked Supt. Dorsey Hopson a hypothetical question about finding “quality” teachers and more students should the school remain open.
Hopson said there would be serious operational challenges, such as making sure the seniors have the course offerings and the staff necessary to graduate. “You can have a scenario where you have a school with less than 100 kids,” he said. “While the decision [was] to give the community another year…it did create serious challenges.”
The superintendent said he didn’t see a credible path in trying to staff the school, knowing the school was going to close.
Northside was one of three schools the board voted to close during a meeting in April. Carver High School was given the axe in June and Messick Adult Center was booted from the district in February. The board’s decision to close the schools was based primarily on declining enrollment.
Randolph said the school she graduated from in 1970 could have been spared the proverbial axe that’s being used to close “schools in the black community.” The closing of Northside could have been adverted, she said, if vocational classes were re-instituted.
“What happened to all the vocational classes that Northside once had? They need to bring those vocational classes back,” said Randolph. “Everybody is not college-bound or college material. But that doesn’t mean students can’t be successful.”
 “Northside has a lot of promise. North Memphis has a lot of promise,” said Davis, a 1982 graduate. “The Bible talks about iron sharpening iron. And when you take away the iron, it leaves you with rust. The rust can be cleaned. It can be made useful again.”
Davis encouraged the board to change its mind about closing Northside. “Once you’re in these seats, in these kinds of meetings, it’s not really to hear what we have to say,” he said. “Basically, it’s to tell us what you’ve already decided.”
The handful of Northside alums in the audience gasped when board chair Teresa Jones rendered the expected verdict. “Northside will close at the end of this school year,” she said. Jones had asked the board for the one-year reprieve.
“I made the recommendation because the community implored me as their representative to do so,” she said.
“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” said Randolph. “And I don’t hear her singing.”
The closures could save the district more than $3 million.

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