The Minnesota Department of Education recently announced the approval of 11 new charter schools state-wide, eight of which will be opening in the Twin Cities or first-ring suburbs. This year’s crop follows a current trend in charter schools: aggressively pursuing poor and low-income families who are dissatisfied and disillusioned with public school systems, particularly in Minneapolis. Six of the eight say they will explicitly market themselves to these families.
Sponsor: Audubon Center of the North Woods
The Audubon Center of the North Woods, which already sponsors a number of schools in the Twin Cities Metro Area, is sponsoring Bright Water Montessori (grades K-6 in North Minneapolis), Laura Jeffrey Academy (grades 5-8 in St. Paul), Michael Frome Academy (grades K-5 in Woodbury), and Best Academy (grades 5-8 in North Minneapolis). Steve Dess of the Audubon Center said the Center likes to focus on “accountability” – achieving results – in the schools they sponsor, rather than involving themselves heavily in curriculum design. Dess said the Center typically sponsors charter schools that center their curriculum on project-based learning and teaching a sense of environmental responsibility.
In project-based learning, students focus on a complex question or problem, working in groups to investigate and answer the question or solve the problem over an extended period of time. Projects are designed to teach a battery of skills at once.
Dess said Laura Jeffrey Academy, Best Academy, and Bright Water are specifically intended to serve low-income families. In addition, Laura Jeffrey would be focused on girls’ educational needs, and Best Academy will provide a similar focus for boys.
Sponsor: Volunteers of America of Minnesota
Global Academy (Columbia Heights) and KIPP Academy (Downtown Minneapolis)
Sponsored by Volunteers of America of Minnesota, a non-profit social and community service organization, Global Academy in Columbia Heights hopes to provide elementary-aged students “an interdisciplinary approach and integrated learning units, with a heavy emphasis on character development,” according to Jay Testerman of Volunteers of America. The school will ultimately have 200 students, grades K-6, according to Mellissa Storbakken of Global Academy.
Testerman said the school hoped to become an accredited International Baccalaureate Early Years school, and was beginning the four-year process this year.
The Volunteers are also sponsoring KIPP Academy, using the KIPP educational model. The model uses “five pillars” to anchor classroom instruction – “clearly defined and measurable high expectations,” the commitment that comes from parents’ and students’ choice to participate, an extended school day and extracurriculars, teaching leadership skills, and “relentlessly” using standardized testing to measure student performance. The school will begin teaching around 100 students grades 5-8, but will later expand to a K-12 school. KIPP is a national organization with schools already operating in several states.
Volunteers of America of Minnesota has been sponsoring schools in the metro area for several years, and currently sponsors 15 schools. According to Testerman, the organization looks to support small schools in historically underserved communities that fill a demonstrated need in each community, and stress a strong commitment to community service in their curriculums.
Sponsor: Adler Graduate School of Psychology
Lionsgate Academy in Robbinsdale, sponsored by the Adler Graduate School of Psychology, will be only the third school of its kind in the United States, designed from the ground up to support autistic students grades 7 to 12. The school will be “state of the art,” according to Dennis Rislove, the President of Adler, based on current ideas in the field of Psychology. Each student will have individual counseling and learning plans, Rislove said, and will incorporate a fine arts focus in its curriculum.
The school will also serve as an site for an internship program for students at Adler. According to the graduate school’s website, its philosophy focuses on the idea that individuals must be understood within their social context.
“[A] misbehaving child is a discouraged child,” says the website’s description of Adlerian approaches to child psychology. “[H]elping children to feel valued, significant, and competent is often the most effective strategy in coping with difficult child behaviors.”
In treatment, the website says, “clients are encouraged to overcome their feelings of insecurity, develop deeper feelings of connectedness, and to redirect their striving for significance into more socially beneficial directions.”
So far, the school is limited to 65 students, although Rislove said they had received over 200 applications and were choosing qualified applicants using a lottery.
James Sanna is a freelance writer and an intern covering education issues for the Daily Planet.