Hanka, for one, doesn't think the state would have more luck convincing minority students to move than the district has had. She argues that because the Anoka-Hennepin district is so large--it enrolls more than 40,000 students--and covers so much ground, Evergreen can't help but be an anomaly. "We look different from schools in Anoka, Ramsey, and Andover because we are so far away from them," she explains. "This is what it looks like in Brooklyn Center... We look normal compared to the schools geographically around us."
Norris concedes that it's hard to integrate schools that serve segregated communities. "I can sympathize that maybe we are simplifying something that is extremely complicated," he says. "We are not the world that was portrayed in Fargo. We don't know if this is going to work, but we hope."
Principal Gail Hanka says Evergreen Park Elementary's diversity proves desegregation is no longer simply black and white
Carlos Mariani, a state DFL representative from St. Paul and director of the nonprofit Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, worries that the voluntary desegregation rule, no matter how well-intentioned, is a "sloppy law." He says that people tend to blame race for the failings of a school that is actually crippled by poverty. The goal has too often simply been to get minority students into white schools, instead of studying what makes schools like Evergreen succeed. "I wonder if there is an awkward application of certain laws," he says. "The question is, are they having education success or not?"
And after working for 26 years in public education, that's the bottom line for Hanka as well. While the principal is reluctant to have Evergreen judged only on test scores, she points out that the school's numbers are in line with statewide averages. Indeed, because test scores are good, she notes, state officials have never seen fit to visit Evergreen. Mostly, Hanka's willingness to declare Evergreen a success comes from her day-to-day dealings with students and parents in her four years at the school. Families, she notes, like Evergreen.
Helen Marie Lewis moved to Brooklyn Center two years ago, drawn by the diversity of the integrated neighborhoods near Evergreen Park. Lewis, who had lived in southeast Minneapolis for 20 years, had been searching for a new home for herself and her granddaughter, a third grader. After meeting with Hanka, and learning about the school, Lewis, who is African American, says she immediately felt at home and can't imagine moving her granddaughter to another school. "Evergreen is a school that represents its community, and that's as it should be," she says. "[The diversity] to me is not a problem. That's an advantage."