The University of St. Thomas has agreed to be the sponsor of three proposed new charter schools in St. Paul. The schools, which primarily would serve the Hispanic, Hmong and African-American communities, submitted their charter applications to the Minnesota Department of Children Families and Learning on Wednesday.
Under state laws, sponsorship of a new charter school can come from a public school district, the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, or a college or university.
In this case, to sponsor a charter school does not mean to support it financially. Rather, the sponsor’s responsibility is to monitor the charter school’s effectiveness, consult with the state regarding the school’s performance, and hold the school accountable for positive results in student learning as identified in the school’s charter.
The three schools St. Thomas has agreed to sponsor are:
Academia Cesar Chavez. This school would serve the Hispanic community and is an outgrowth of the Hispanic Pre-College program started by St. Thomas in the 1980s. The school likely would be located on the West Side and would open in fall 2001. It is proposed that the school would serve 250 students in grades k-5.
HOPE (Hmong Open Partnerships in Education) Academy. This school would open in fall 2000 and would serve 450 students in grades K-3. The school would be located on the East Side and supported by the Hmong community, ACTS (Asian Communities Together in Service of St. Paul) and Ramsey Action Projects. It would be the first Hmong school in the United States.
Minnesota Institute of Technology (MIT) Charter School. This school would serve African-American and Asian children and would open in fall 2000, possibly in the Energy Park area. The school would provide rigorous academic preparation and training in technology for about 450 students in grades K-3. The school has been proposed by officials from the Harvest Prep/Seed Academy, a similar school in Minneapolis.
Plans are that eventually all three schools would serve students in grades K through 12.
Dr. Richard Podemski, dean of the St. Thomas School of Education, said the university hopes to forge a much closer relationship to the three schools beyond the basic, statutory obligation of submitting evaluation reports to the state.
The goal of St. Thomas, he said, is to establish strong partnerships with a variety of area schools to provide:
• Locations for student teachers, special education students and administrative interns.
• Clinical settings for evaluating new teaching methods.
• Faculty development opportunities for teachers at both the charter schools and the university.
• Sites for St. Thomas’ service-learning and volunteer programs.
St. Thomas already has close ties with local school districts and schools. The university’s School of Education, for example, is located immediately next door to the new Interdistrict Downtown School, a partnership of nine Minneapolis area school districts. St. Thomas also is helping with planning efforts for a proposed Catholic grade school in downtown Minneapolis.
“These growing partnerships provide the School of Education with a rich mix of clinical sites for its students, and also fit perfectly with St. Thomas’ mission as an involved, urban university,” Podemski said.
A number of steps remain before the charter schools are established. The state has 60 days to comment on the applications. That is followed by another 90-day period during which contracts are finalized. A charter school cannot be started without a finalized contract.
As public schools, charter schools receive state funding. In terms of curriculum and focus, they can operate outside of traditional public school guidelines; they cannot, however, be religious schools.
Part of the budget of each charter school would include funds to help St. Thomas hire a coordinator to manage the required evaluation process and to oversee the university-charter school partnerships.