Selected readings on US charter schools
Some of the schools blend online and face-to-face instruction. Others favor hands-on projects or embrace the Montessori method. One is an all-girls middle school bent on exploding the myth that only boys can excel at science and engineering.
A sundry group of St. Paul and Minneapolis public schools are banding together for Small Schools Week — an open-house marathon highlighting the metro’s tiniest urban schools, which primarily are charters. School advocates contend smaller size and close-knit climate are key strengths.
Setting aside competing for students, the schools are joining forces to flaunt smaller enrollments in order to add to them — but only so much.
“We’re all really different,” said Lydia McAnerney, enrollment coordinator at St. Paul’s Great River School. “But we can tap into the community better together.”
The event takes place after St. Paul’s School Choice Fair, the Jan. 11 showcase for district and charter schools. The St. Paul district, which hosts the fair, notes it will feature some of its own smaller schools, such as 300- student Galtier Elementary, which has a science, math and technology focus.
The premise for Small Schools Week dates to 2011, when three St. Paul charters decided to let families check out all of them in a single evening. Great River’s McAnerney said the school saw a major uptick in open-house traffic once it teamed up with Avalon School and River’s Edge Academy.
Last year, the St. Paul district’s Open World Learning Community joined in, bucking the idea of charters and district schools as fierce rivals. In the fall, the original participants opened up the event to more schools. Eleven schools are taking part, including Hiawatha Academies in Minneapolis.
Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul, points to research suggesting smaller schools can produce better results for some children, especially in high-poverty urban settings. Students tend to receive more personal attention and have a better shot at becoming involved in activities.
“For many urban youngsters, a small, distinctive school can be a more nourishing place than a larger traditional school,” said Nathan.
A push for smaller schools has unfolded in parts of the United States in recent years. Outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made launching small high schools — those with 500 or fewer students — a cornerstone of his education agenda.
Small size also comes with limitations: Larger schools are better able to offer a wider array of electives, extracurricular offerings and support staff.
At least some of the schools featured in Small Schools Week said they are eager to grow, but not too much. Cornerstone Montessori Elementary, which serves just more than 100 students on St. Paul’s East Side, plans to cap its enrollment at 140.
“It is important to us that every child is truly known — by all other children in the building as well as by all the adults,” said Head of School Liesl Taylor. Taylor said the open house will give staff a chance to tell parents how the Montessori method emphasizes social and emotional growth along with academics. She hopes the participating schools will continue to network and support each other after the event is over.
Laura Jeffrey Academy, the all-girls middle school in St. Paul, is shooting for an enrollment of 200, up from 160 students in the fall. Jennifer Schiller, the operations and communications director, said the school’s signature interactive teaching style works better in a small setting, with class sizes in the low 20s at most.
” ‘Asking questions, making choices’ is our motto,” she said.
Source: TwinCities.com Pioneer Press – by Mila Koumpilova
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