Educators offer suburban/rural families a school choice fair

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In a great gift to families, Forest Lake area district, charter and parochial school educators are doing something wonderful. It’s an opportunity that I’d hope Iron Range educators consider offering. On Thursday, January 24, from 4:30 – 8:00 PM, schools are coming together in one place to help families learn more about their programs. The school choice fair will be at North Lakes Academy, 255B NW 7th Ave in Forest Lake.

So far as I know, this is a first. It’s a tribute, not only to the organizers, but also to the other participating educators. As of last week, the following 10 schools are planning to attend: Central Montessori Elementary, Chisago Area High School, Forest Lake Area High School, Forest Lake Century Middle School, Forest Lake Southwest Middle School, Lakes International Language Academy, North Lakes Academy, St. Peter’s Elementary, White Bear Lake District and Wolf Creek (On-line) Charter School. Several additional schools may be joining this group. Local elected officials also have been invited.

Individual schools often have open houses. For some years, Minneapolis and St. Paul have offered school choice fairs that help families learn about different schools in their communities. And there are many college fairs, bring together colleges and universities across the state and nation.

But I don’t know of any previous program like this… A school choice fair bringing together K-12 educators from different systems (like Chisago, Forest Lake and White Bear) as well as charter and parochial schools.

Asked why North Lakes (charter) Academy has organized this event, NLA director Jackie Saunders explained, “Minnesota parents…have the right and responsibility to actively choose the best education for their children. The Choice Fair will help parents make that important choice.”

Steve Massey, principal at Forest Lake High School agrees: “students in our community have many options. We have an exceptional, comprehension set of options available…The fair is a chance to get the word out that this is a very good school.”

Susan Brott, White Bear Lake District Communications Coordinator, says that district is “looking forward to meeting with families. We feel that we have many attractive programs.”

Ann Laird, principal of St. Peter Elementary in Forest Lake explained that her school has been open almost fifty years, and that “many people learn about us by word-of-mouth. We know there are new people in the community. We feel that we have a lot to give, and want to get our name out.”

Tracy Quarnstrom, director of the Wolf Creek Charter, believes: “Our unique online charter school experience works for some students and not for others. We want people to know that they have the choice to enroll with us. Many students enroll for only a course or two and that works well for them.

These and other educators are reaching out to families. I hope they respond. If this works, I hope other communities offer similar fairs for their families.

Joe Nathan, jnathan@umn.edu, is a former public school educator who directs the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. He welcomes reader reactions.

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