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December 13, 2002

MINNESOTA EDUCATION: 8 new charter schools to open

From: St. Paul Pioneer Press, MN - 13 Dec 2002

Pioneer Press

The state has approved eight new charter high schools, including two scheduled to open next year in St. Paul.

The slate of newly approved schools is the largest expansion of charter high schools in the 10 years since the first-in-the-nation charter school opened in St. Paul.

They include a military school designed to keep young people away from gangs, a school for Hmong students and a performing arts school championed by St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly.

Four of the high schools approved by the state education department plan to open next year in Minneapolis or St. Paul. In St. Paul, the schools are Minnesota North Star Academy, which will focus on deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and the General John Vessey Jr. Leadership Academy, which is billing itself as the state's only public military school.

In Minneapolis, the schools scheduled to open next year are the Hmong Academy and the Minnesota Internship Center. Schools also have been approved in Grand Marais and Bemidji.

Two other schools hope to open in St. Paul in fall 2004: Great River High School, which will provide a Montessori program, and the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, a school touted by Kelly and sponsored by the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

The St. Paul schools are working with the University of Minnesota's Center for School Change, which received a $3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle to help create five charter schools in the St. Paul area.

"The strength of these schools for me is choice,'' said Joan Flynn of the Center for School Change. "Not all students want to be in a large high school.''

Charter schools are independent public schools, run by teachers and parents, free of many of the regulations that govern local school districts. More than 13,000 Minnesota students attend charter schools, but most of the state's 78 charter schools offer programs for younger students.

Two issues are feeding this growth of high school alternatives, said Jessie Montano, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Children, Families and Learning. More students are looking for them after attending charter schools in their primary years, and many families in the urban centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul are concerned about those districts' low graduation rates.

Bill Snyder, a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy working on the Vessey Leadership Academy, said his school would meet a demand for military-style education from families who might not be able to afford private school tuition. He expects to enroll about 100 students.

The Minnesota North Star Academy offers a new choice for families of older deaf children. Most deaf students now either travel to a state-run school in Faribault or attend their local high school with the help of an adult interpreter.

"One of the most difficult choices we make is where do our kids go to high school,'' said the school's project director, Peggy Mann Rinehart, who is the mother of two deaf children. "This adds to the options for deaf students.''

She plans for an enrollment of 30 to 40 students.

© St. Paul Pioneer Press