South High School (Minneapolis)

Minneapolis South High School is a four-year comprehensive public high school located in the Corcoran neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A member of the Minneapolis Public Schools district, it is both the oldest and largest public high school in the city of Minneapolis, founded in 1885 and with a student population of 1,847. The school's principal is Brett Stringer, who is assisted by three assistant principals and administration from each Small Learning Community.[3]

Minneapolis South High School
3131 19th Avenue South

Minnesota 55407

United States
Coordinates44°56′44″N 93°14′37″W
School districtMinneapolis Public Schools
PrincipalBrett Stringer
Staff112.00 (FTE)[1]
Number of students1,801 (2017-18)[1]
Student to teacher ratio16.08[1]
Color(s)Orange and Black          
AthleticsMinneapolis City Conference
MascotGallant Tiger
NewspaperThe Southerner



South High School was founded in 1885 inside of four rooms in the attic of the old Adams School at Franklin Avenue and Sixteenth Avenue. It was in this setting that South High School began many traditions that continue to this day. The small student body of this school within a school began publishing the South High Observer, the direct predecessor to today's school paper: The Southerner. South High Theater presented its first play—Cox and Box—in 1892. Several years after its humble start South had its first graduation, totaling twenty-seven students. Within several years, South had outgrown the Adams School and the Minneapolis School Board began a search to find a new, larger location for the school.

They found a plot of land, purchased from a man named Frank Murphy, that had once housed an orchard and a cornfield. It was on this newly acquired land that the foundation for the new South High was laid. The building was completed on or around New Years Day, 1892, and in 1893, the 250 students of South High School and the 208 students of the adjoining middle school took the triumphant march to their new building, at 2445 18th (or Cedar) Avenue South.

The new building was a masterpiece. Built out of red brick and sandstone in a castle-like structure, in typical 1890s architectural fashion, it featured multiple turrets, twelve-foot ceilings, stained-glass bay windows and a six-story bell tower. After the last part of the building, the bell tower, was erected, it was decided by the School Board not to purchase a bell for it. The reasons for this are unclear, but it is thought that the large bell used to mark the beginning and ending of classes was ditched in favor of an electric bell system run by a motor. The bell tower would remain until the rest of the building around it was destroyed.

The student body kept growing at a fast pace; it had grown to between 750 and 800 students by 1909. The once spacious quarters of the school had become small, and the auditorium was sacrificed for more classrooms by dividing it up into four quarters using green curtains. Students had trouble concentrating with this setup, and the Minneapolis School Board decided changes needed to be made.

That first significant change came in September 1910 when the new manual and training wings were opened. This new part of the school allowed students to be trained into business and other commercial professions. The highest reported number of students taking classes in this part of the school at any time was 800 students, using 149 typewriters along with other equipment. In January 1911, a new auditorium was opened up to the graduating class, with an initial seating capacity of 1,913. In contrast, South High's current auditorium has a listed seating capacity of 715. The new auditorium space, along with the manual and training wings, consisted of a new style of architecture. No clear pictures of these additions are available, and the only description offered for the style was "medieval."

The final extension to the school came in 1916. Most of the original structure was demolished to make room for a new large building. The new structure, still connected to the old structure and the manual and training wings, followed the architectural style of its time, with a square look and evenly cut windows, at least one to a room. Several schools in the area from this period and architectural style remain.

The "Golden Age"

With this last part of the central school building added, South High School became one of the architectural wonders of the city of Minneapolis, featuring three different sections with different architectural styles, linked together in an offbeat harmony.

This paragraph from the January 1927 Parent-Teacher Broadcaster summarizes it and the parts inside it the best:

After the First World War, work began on an athletic field, which was built across Cedar Avenue from the building. No more details on its initial construction can be found. Augsburg College's football team used South football field as their home field from 1926-1945.

A number of changes to the school were requested by the parents and teachers of South High in 1924. These included a new chorus room, or band room, to seat 400 students, fireproofing and alteration of the auditorium, a new gymnasium, and improvement of the athletic field. In the summer of 1926 the auditorium was remodeled and fireproofed, a process that cut the seating capacity from 1,913 to 1,655. At the same time, sets of stairs were added leading out to Cedar Avenue to relieve ever-growing congestion at entryways. The band room was expanded, facilitating its rampant growth and eventually spurring other schools to develop programs of their own. The athletic field was finished, complete with a concrete fence, comfortable seating, and a large gateway dedicated to the South students who died in the First World War. In addition, the old gymnasium was replaced by two new ones, separated by a partition—one side for boys, the other for girls.

The height of what is known as South's Golden Age, which lasted from 1916 to about 1940, came, ironically, during the height of the Great Depression. In 1933, South High School had 2,820 enrolled students, and, despite the misery of the outside world, the school continued to grow and prosper and show students the possibility of a better life away from the Depression.

The end of the old South High building came in the 1940s, as the oldest part of South started to show distinct signs of age. The stonework began to crumble. The wooden floors that comprised all of the old section of the school were warped and wavy. Even the furnishings and old art that lined the walls was still there. Few classes were held in the old section of the school anymore and when it rained, the roof leaked, sending water streaming down its labyrinthine corridors.

In the summer of 1950, wrecking hammers went to work on the front of the old school, an action met with vigorous protest, a large part of it coming from alumni. It would take until 1953 to destroy the old third of the building, leaving the other two parts untouched.

They did not remain untouched by controversy for very long, however. In 1961 South High principal Carl Lundin sent a petition to the Minneapolis School Board for a new South High School. The Citizens Group, people interested in saving historic buildings, met this with protest. Their protest was met with counter-protest, setting off a seven-year period of constant protest. Several different sites were considered for building the new South High, and one was only decided on four and a half years after the original proposal. The plans met further trouble after that when a building plan upon which could not be agreed. The proposal that brought the most anguish after it was rejected was the City Council's refusal to close 31st street to accommodate the new athletic field. It brought the most news attention of any problem and yet it seems like a silly issue today – the athletic field is simply across 31st street from the building. Contracts for the New South were finally awarded in early October 1968 and a groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 11, 1968, using five shovels engraved with letters spelling "SOUTH". The class of 1970 became the last class to graduate in the antiquated South High building. South High senior class of 1970 finished their school year in the old South High and never had a class in the New South High. They were told they had to go to the unfinished, new gym and graduation services were done there at the New South High. The South High class of 1970 never had a class in the New South High.

The New South

The open house for the new South High School was held on October 11, 1970, exactly two years after the groundbreaking ceremony.

At this time in history, the nation was experiencing great turmoil within its boundaries due to the prolonged Vietnam War and the government's cover-up of vital information about the true progress of the war. Construction for the New South began in 1968, the year when public opinion of the war took a big turn for the worse. Just a few months before the gala open house for the new building the Kent State shootings occurred – four students were killed by National Guardsmen during a protest of the war and of government policy, sparking a new round of student protest across the nation.

From the outside, South looks like a brick fortress. The new building was possibly made to counter the student unrest of the times. Windows are absent from the original building. Windows are prone to shatter easily unless expensive shatterproof glass is used. Structures of this time period tend to lack windows, which could be quickly destroyed by any violent protest around them, a common occurrence, making them at best expensive to replace and at worst a public safety hazard. The original floor plans also changed with more additions, such as the third floor, added in the late nineties with the seeming innovation of windows. [NOTE: this is not confirmed by any architectural or other proposals or plans. In fact, the architectural design reflects the designwork done on countless office buildings at the time.]

However, students at South High were given an equally plausible alternative explanation for the somewhat prison-like structure. The architect for the New South Project was from Texas, and his interpretation for energy efficiency over the long winters caused him to eschew any extensive use of windows. Additionally, when the building first opened, it was an "Open School," with no individual classrooms on the second floor. The small windows used in the design provided light across the open area. Only when the school was converted to typical classroom divisions did the lack of natural light become an issue. [NOTE: according to the architectural plans, the building was designed to meet the needs of the modular programming. This required an open resource area, lined by resource rooms. When the district decided modular programming was not working, the walls were constructed to return the school to a more traditional setting. It was at this point that the lack of windows became a problem and the "maze" was necessary in order to meet classroom size and number requirements. The original plans accommodated 1500 students, but South's enrollment has held steady at 2,000. The building is still short at least 7 classrooms, despite the internal remodel to meet growing needs.]

The original floor plan was open, in keeping with the educational philosophies of the time. Ideally, such a configuration would allow for shared learning among students in different classes. But the open floor plan produced distractions and additional interior walls were added later to separate different classrooms from one another. The construction of classrooms after the fact created a "rabbit maze" of identical hallways, and in some instances classrooms that are only accessible via other classrooms.

Current architecture

South High School is a three-story building, centered around the auditorium, commons area, and balcony. When students enter school in the morning there are two sets of doors open that both lead into the commons area. Each student is issued an identification card, which is checked upon entry through all entrances, to ensure the safety of the students and staff. Students are given off-campus privileges for lunch. This privilege begins after the first semester of students’ freshman year. It can be revoked for failing classes, returning late from off campus three times in a semester, or disciplinary issues.

First Floor The first floor contains the main office, auditorium, lunchroom, gymnasium, technology/shop classrooms, and various other classrooms. The band and orchestra classes are also located on the first floor. In the summer of 2001, the auto shop was turned into a band room to meet the ever-growing need of that department, and the ventilation system was remade to allow for more efficient air conditioning. In Spring 2007, a project to renovate all of the public high school auditoriums in Minneapolis moved on to the South auditorium. The renovations, which had finished by the beginning of the 2007-08 school year, include new lighting and sound equipment, an extensive box for lighting and sound control, two sets of double doors at the main auditorium entrance, and a wheelchair-accessible balcony. Theatrical performances on the stage began in Spring 2007. Due to space restrictions, there is no fly system.

Second Floor The second floor contains many mathematics, social studies and English classrooms. The Media Center and counseling offices are also on the second floor. The “Skybox”, a small studio theatre, was mostly paid for by alumnus Josh Hartnett. Friends of South High Theater raised the remaining money needed.

Third Floor The third floor was constructed during the 1996–97 school year. It is the only floor at South with full windows. It houses science classrooms, world language classrooms and many freshman classrooms.

Master Plan 1996

As third floor construction was underway, RSP Architects and Minneapolis Public Schools outlined "South High Master Plan, Minneapolis Public Schools" February 16, 1996, a vision for further improvements to the South High campus in the ensuing years. The plan includes upgrades to the building structure, athletic fields and acquisition of 31st Street between 19th and 20th Avenues.[4]

South High Programs/Small Learning Communities

The school has three different Small Learning Communities (SLCs): Liberal Arts, Open (citywide), and All Nations American Indian. During the summer of 2006, the Triple E (Environment, Empowerment, Essentials) program was eliminated, and students belonging to those SLCs were placed into the Open and Liberal Arts communities. There are also several programs for special education students and teenage parents. All South High School programs are designed to prepare students for post-secondary education options.

Open (citywide) The open program at South High School centers on students’ exploration of their learning and their world. The open program values student initiative, curiosity, and personal responsibility. Students are given freedom to discover how they learn best. For example, many open program classes allow students to complete projects as best suits their individual interests, whether that be a poster, paper, skit, or diorama.

Liberal Arts This program offers students a broad array of subject areas from which to learn. Each student is immersed in rigorous Liberal Arts courses. According to South, the Place to Be, “The mission of the program is to help students think creatively, critically, and analytically, to communicate effectively, and to actively participate in the larger community.”

All Nations American Indian (citywide) The All Nations Program is uniquely designed to involve the American Indian community in student learning. The program incorporates courses with an emphasis on the Native perspective.

Student body and academics

There was so much interest in the school during the 1990s that local newspapers printed articles with parents stating that if their child's application to the magnet program at South was not accepted, they would send their child to private school. South has extensive offerings in general education, special education, athletics, and world languages (French, Spanish, Arabic, German, Latin, Chinese, Ojibwe, and for many years also Russian). In 2012, Somali was added as a language class. The school is renowned for its cultural diversity, with students from White, African-American, Asian (particularly Hmong), Northeast African (particularly Somali and Oromo), American Indian, and Hispanic communities. There is an increasing number of Eastern European students.

While many academic programs at South are widely respected, the South student body also experiences a significant achievement gap. Students from wealthier and more educated families tend to be enrolled in Advanced Placement and College in the Schools classes, and attend college after high school much more frequently than students from other socioeconomic backgrounds. This trend is also discernible by ethnic background. In fact, a significant percentage of South students drop out of school completely before graduation. These trends exemplify the sociological concept of social reproduction, whereby barriers to social mobility prevent the poor from leaving poverty. The state of Minnesota, to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, has given SHS two stars out of five in both reading and mathematics. This means that South failed to meet federal accountability standards in both categories in the preceding academic year. The school received nationwide press in 2005 after it introduced online physical education classes. The program allows students to select a physical activity of their preference and then engage in that activity three times a week in order to meet the school’s P.E. requirements.[5]

Events and organizations

There are many annual events on the school year schedule, such as the open house, parent-teacher conference days, homecoming, athletic events, dances, and other social events. Many students arrive early or leave late to participate in extracurricular ("co-curricular" is the administration's preferred term) activities, including ethnic student associations, language clubs, competitive academic groups, mock trial, Academic Decathlon, Quiz Bowl, debate, and political groups. SHS has a very active theatre company. Some of their plays are student-directed and many parts of the production encourage student involvement (for instance, the sets are designed and built by students). South High School is also a powerhouse in national academic competitions. In 1998 South's Mock Trial team was 2nd in State, in 1999 they were State Champions and ranked nationally, in 2005 students took fourth place in the nation in the Mock Trial competition, and in the 2006 national competition, South took twelfth place. The South Mock Trial team stopped competing before the 2007 season. In 2005 South was ranked first in National History Day.


South's girls basketball team rose to prominence in the last several years when Ahmil Jihad assumed the head coach position. The same year, Tayler Hill joined the team as an 8th grader. Hill won the state scoring title her sophomore and senior years and led South to a 139-14 record in her five-year career. After two consecutive Minnesota State High School League Class AAAA state championship losses to St. Paul Central, Minneapolis South got what they longed for by beating Centennial High School 68-61 in the 2009 class AAAA state final. Tayler Hill led all scorers, tying the all-time tournament record for most points in a single game with 47. Hill broke several Minnesota high school records in her senior season, including most career points with 3,894, most points in a single season with 1,053, and most free throw makes and attempts in a single season (270/350).


Actors Hilda Simms and Josh Hartnett graduated from South.


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