Mission: Impossible

A radically retooled Minneapolis School Board tries to stop the bleeding and start over

Pratt itself was mothballed in 1982, as a part of the first wave of closings when MPS was contending with a decade-long exodus that dropped the student body from 65,000 to 39,000. Many of the schools closed that year were razed, but Pratt's neighborhood came to its defense, demanding that the building, which faces Tower Hill, stay open as a community center. The school was reopened as a K-3 program in 2000 with just kindergarteners and first-graders. When its first pupils were in third grade, the district agreed to expand Pratt by two more classes to K-5. Prospect Park committed $1.1 million to the effort.

Ten months later, in early 2004, David Jennings put the school on the list of buildings he thought should close. Pratt was indeed a jewel, he conceded to the Star Tribune, "but our view as a school district has to be larger than just that one school." MPS had more pressing problems in schools in neighborhoods that weren't as organized as Prospect Park, he said.

Members of the school board at the time proved softer touches, eventually agreeing to leave open Pratt and a number of other schools serving vocal—and affluent—families. When every single southwest Minneapolis school slated for closing survived, families in North and Northeast cried foul and the number of minority children leaving the city only accelerated; MPS had 43,000 students in 2004, and just 36,000 today.

The new board can't afford to bow to all comers, Stewart says. Still, he tells the dads at Pratt, their school deserves to stay open. If it weren't integrated, and if it weren't for the community's creative financing, it would be a different story. In fact, MPS should figure out how to replicate its successes elsewhere.

It takes 90 minutes, but Stewart finally finds something not to like in Pratt's basement. The lunch that's being set out consists of grilled cheese sandwiches and vegetable egg rolls going cold and soggy in individual plastic wrappers. "I'm sorry," he snaps, holding up a sandwich displaying the crispness of a potholder. "One of these days I am just going to lose it. I mean, look at this."

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