School’s future in doubt – again

TThe vanilla-colored brick building has stood at 66 Malcolm Ave. since 1898, when it operated as an elementary school for Prospect Park until 1982. It barely escaped demolition and reopened in 2000 as an elementary and adult education center.

Four years later, its future is again uncertain.

Pratt Elementary School houses an 80-student kindergarten through fourth-grade program as well as adult and community education programs. The building is in danger of being closed.

During the last five years, a decline of approximately 5,500 students has hurt the enrollment of Minneapolis Public Schools. Last February, the city’s Board of Education listed Pratt as one of several schools slated for closing.

The district has hired consultants to work over the summer to access the cost-effectiveness of closing schools.

“We are opening a discussion with the community on what they value in school programs,” said Melissa Winter, district spokeswoman.

The question is if the district values a school with smaller classrooms, such as Pratt, or the more diverse curriculum found in bigger schools, she said.

“Pratt is a terrific example of what Minneapolis should try to retain,” said Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Nathan is among those trying to save the school. He spoke Tuesday to the U.S. Senate about ways to keep schools such as Pratt open.

“(Pratt) brings together kids of different economic and racial backgrounds,” he said. “It is the kind of program that should be prized and not penalized.”

Every third-grade student at Pratt passed the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, a state-required test used to measure achievement, according to a 2003 Minnesota Department of Education report.

The school is located next to the Witch’s Hat Tower in Prospect Park, a socially diverse neighborhood that includes Stadium Village, the low-income Glendale area and Tower Hill, which has primarily higher income levels.

According to a Pratt report, the school’s student body is also diverse. One-third of students are black, one-tenth are of Asian ethnicities and 4 percent are American Indian. Fifty-two percent of the students are white.

Jerry Stein, assistant professor in the University Extension Service’s Center of 4-H Youth Development, has been instrumental in working to preserve public education at Pratt.

“Factors outside of schools have a huge impact on education,” Stein said. “Community involvement has definitely helped Pratt.”

Stein, along with other community activists, formed the Pratt Council in 1982 and prevented the Pratt building’s demolition.

At the last Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association meeting, Stein presented ideas to help keep Pratt open.

Both Stein and Nathan promote the idea of charity and nonprofit organizations sharing the building with the school.

Though Pratt will be open for the 2004-05 school year, the Minneapolis School Board will likely decide the school’s future in October or November, Winter said.