Richfield High School 1958

Richfield High School 1958

First, let me start out by saying I am impressed with the work the current high school principal and school superintendent are doing. That said, let me also say that was not always the case.

While I don’t have children of my own I worked for eight years with children that had emotional and behavioral problems. Several years I worked in the Minneapolis school system and for three months I worked at Richfield High School working with what would be considered level 5 high school students (students with quite a bit of behavioral problems and needed to be removed into their own classroom and building).

This was back in the 1990’s. Richfield’s schools were just starting to change, taking on more racially and economically diverse students. Funny thing, from my observations the Richfield School District had almost no idea how to handle those newcomers and even worse, they really did not want to deal with them. I know it is a trite and overused mediphor but an ostrich with it’s head in the sand would fit well. It appeared that the school administration were more interested about reaching retirement and passing off the problems than actually dealing with them.

I was no fool. Having worked on the frontlines with children with behavioral issues I knew it has a loosing battle if the administration was not competent on the issues at hand or worse, not willing to back you up. Hence, I left after three months. At the time I did not live in Richfield. Maybe things would have been different if I had actually some skin in the game.

I did know this, no one was dealing the problem realistically at the time, instead acting like it was still Richfield 1980s and before. Problems were ignored, some of the high school kids I worked with were shuttled off to Community/Technical Colleges for day classes even though they were not making progress in our classroom. The reports that came back from the Community/Technical Colleges were that the kids were having behavioral problems there as well, but hey, at least we didn’t have to deal with them.

Big mistake

The Richfield School District is now dealing with a graduation rate of 67.1% and a drop out rate of 4.2% and test scores that are consistently across the board below state averages for subject proficiency. As I said before, I am impressed with the work the current high school principal and school superintendent are doing. But it didn’t have to get this bad if we just took the blinders off several years earlier and dealt with the issues back then.

We have a chance to deal with housing issues realistically today and not pretend like it is “Richfield 1980” and pass on our bad decisions to future Richfield citizens in 2020 or 2030. We can recognize that Richfield is an integrated community and has lost its status as solidly middle class and has entered the ranks of the lower class (sadly, just as much of American society has done).

Kübler-Ross’ The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

It appears that many city leaders (this includes church and business leaders too) are still in stage one – denial. Like I mentioned before they still strongly hold on to the belief that this is “Richfield 1980s”.

After working with Richfield Commoners United and have the opportunity to flyer and meet with Richfield citizens around the city I believe their are few who are still in stage one. Unfortunately many I talked to appear to be in stage two – Anger. People are pissed and scared at the changes occuring and want someone to blame. City Hall is always a perennial favorite to blame, but unfortunately so are the new arrivals to Richfield. Many of the newest arrivals are people of color and new immigrates, both of which usually have lower incomes than the established white residents of Richfield. However, blaming them would be directing their anger at the shadow rather than the substance of the issue which is rather discriminatory housing practices by real estate agents and mortgage companies as well as discriminatory housing policies that concentrate low income people of color in certain inner city neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs.

I do hear a lot of bargaining as well: “If the city puts up Pillsbury Commons I am going to put up a for sale sign on my house!” Depression is what scares me the most. It is when people give up and do move away or simply stop caring and investing in their homes and community. That is what can do serious damage.

I am hopeful that many will make it to the final stage Acceptance and begin to work with the situation realistically and accept Richfield as an integrated and low income community and work to stabilize it racially and economically to keep it from falling into resegregation – a fate that befalls communities that can’t get out of the first stages of grief.