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Our view: Should Duluth have gone to 1 high school?

With divides between Duluth’s East and Denfeld high schools in enrollment, class offerings, opportunities and diversity (Our View: “Imbalance between schools demands stronger leadership,” July 27), a natural question could be asked, even if it is hindsight and too late now:

Would the Duluth school district have been better off going to one high school in 2007 when it made the tough decision to close Central High School while keeping open high schools on the eastern and western ends of the city?

In other words, should an even tougher decision have been made? Should the Blue Plan have been adopted instead of the Red Plan? The Blue Plan called for renovating Central into one high school for the entire district while converting East and Denfeld into middle schools. Would that have eliminated, or at least lessened, Duluth’s can’t-seem-to-shake-it east-west divide and its separation, whether real or perceived, of haves over here and have-nots over there?

“I think there were pros and cons to all those plans,” Superintendent Bill Gronseth said in an interview this month with members of the News Tribune editorial board when the question came up. “Having one high school may have addressed the issues of numbers and diversity because then we are what we are. We definitely would have been the biggest school in northern Minnesota. But I think you start to lose some opportunities when a school is too big. A school’s basketball team is only one size, as an example.”

True, but couldn’t intramural sports be broadened so more kids have a chance to play? And couldn’t there be more musical options and plays and clubs and other things to get all students involved who want to be involved?

Maybe.

But then there’s the flip side, too: Would playing on an intramural team be as rewarding as representing your school as a member of “the” school team? Would kids get lost in the sheer numbers?

Maybe again.

So here’s another question: Would dealing with those sorts of things been preferable to the realities we’re dealing with now in Duluth, including that more than 57 percent of students at Denfeld come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches while the percentage at East is just 21.7 percent? Or that while only about 990 students attend Denfeld, East has about 1,550, meaning, potentially, more classes and opportunities at East with funding based on a per-student basis?

“If the community would have dealt with the enrollment issue before the Red Plan (was adopted, that would have been best), Bill Hanson, the district’s director of business services, said at the same meeting. “We should not have had three high schools in the early part of the 2000s. I mean, (due to falling enrollments) we were years overdue to be at two high schools by that point. So if you come into the creation of the Red Plan and you have two high schools, well now the potential of going to one (high school) seems less drastic. But trying to go from three (high schools) to one, I mean I don’t know that this community, or many communities, could get to that point.”

Point taken. The aftershocks of closing Central still are being felt in Duluth. Imagine the fallout had the decision been made to close Denfeld and East as high schools. Would we have seen double the angst and protest School Board candidates and Plan B’s and pricey challenges and hard feelings and sincerely deep wounds? How would that have balanced against one high school for one Duluth, even if a massively large high school?

They’re natural questions, even if after-the-fact and despite being well past time to move on from still second-guessing the Red Plan.

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