Selected readings on US charter schools
Woodbury Leadership Academy, a school for kindergarten through eighth grade, is set to open this fall after receiving state approval in January. The school will focus on small class sizes and instruction tailored to each student, similar to the private school Footprints Academy that will close.
Bruce Sorenson, president of the Woodbury Leadership founding board, said the academy is modeled after Footprints. The private school’s principal, Darlah Krug, and several Footprints teachers are on the leadership team for the new charter school, but it will be independent of Footprints.
“It is very exciting to be able to offer a public school that focuses on smaller class sizes and a more individualized setting,” Sorenson said. “That’s a public-school option that we don’t have right now.”
Minnesota’s charter law does not allow private schools to be converted into charter schools, said Cindy Murphy, Minnesota Department of Education charter center director. Woodbury Leadership’s initial application was rejected by the state because of concerns over ties to a private school.
Educators affiliated with a private school can start a charter school, but the new school must be independent of the private one, Murphy said. Students and staff from the private school also can be given no preference for enrollment or employment.
“They truly are starting brand new,” Murphy said.
State records show that after the state objected, Woodbury Leadership’s board backed away from plans to house the school in the Footprints Academy building on Tamarack Road, which has an assessed value of $3.2 million.
Footprints owner Nicole Robbins said that after the state objected, she changed her plans to have a leadership role with the new school.
Robbins said she will continue as a volunteer to help the school get started, but she plans to focus on early childhood programs she offers through Peace of Mind, which will expand into the space now occupied by Footprints.
“We wanted to continue the spirit of Footprints,” Robbins said.
Volunteers of America of Minnesota, a nonprofit social service advocate, will serve as Woodbury Leadership’s authorizer and be responsible for its oversight. The group oversees more than a dozen Minnesota charter schools.
Sonal Desai-Redd, director of education for the authorizer, said the state Department of Education carefully reviewed Woodbury Leadership’s application to ensure the new school is free of conflicts. She expects a final charter contract to be signed this month.
“We totally believe in the integrity of that process and are very confident with it,” Desai-Redd said.
The opening of a new charter school is welcome news to Sarah Burns, who pays tuition to send her son Oscar to Footprints Academy. Burns says Oscar benefits from the school’s small class sizes and individual focus.
Oscar will attend Woodbury Leadership Academy next year tuition-free. Other nearby charter schools have waiting lists, she said.
“As a parent, I’m very excited about it,” Burns said. “We are already paying taxes as Minnesota and Woodbury residents. Paying tuition on top of that is something we don’t want to do if we can get an equal education through a charter school.”
The new school is working to lease space before opening with a planned enrollment of about 200 students. School leaders hope enrollment eventually will reach 350.
Board president Sorenson said he has a detailed understanding of how charter schools operate. He served on the board of Woodbury’s Math and Science Academy and works for the investment firm Piper Jaffray helping charter schools finance construction projects.
Woodbury Leadership Academy is the latest example of how charter schools are expanding into the suburbs. Once an alternative to struggling urban schools, self-governed charters are a growing option for suburban families.
Most of Minnesota’s 150 charter schools are outside St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to data from the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools. There are 64 charters in the state’s two biggest cities, another 38 in the metro area and 48 in the rest of the state.
Source: Twin Cities Pioneer Press – by Christopher Magan