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In praise of differences…

November 26, 2008

As a pony-tailed, soccer-loving vegetarian who left England to settle here on the frozen tundra 12 years ago, I’m well aware of the perils associated with doing anything that deviates from the mainstream.   Inevitably, people are curious and, on occasion, perturbed by actions or practices that veer away from the norm. After all, a different approach will always cause us to question our own traditional way of doing things. That’s just how it is, and always will be, and so I’m comfortable with the need to deflect questions about my decision to substitute the turkey for tofurkey at this time of year!

The same is true in education.   As an unashamed advocate of progressive education, I’ve learned over the past 10 years or so that part of the deal is that those encamped in the a more traditional model of schooling will continually have questions and doubts about more progressive models.   That’s okay, I think and we in the charter school movement do not need to be defensive in response.  Rather, we need to take more time and care to articulate our mission.

I’m driven to remind myself of this by yet another newspaper article about the charter school movement.   The article in question, in today’s Star Tribune, takes a look at the impact of urban schools in regard to test scores and segregation of students.  Reading the article, I was also reminded of just how established the charter school movement has become in our state.  Charter schools, pioneered in Minnesota, have been around for 17 years.  28,000 Minnesota students enrolled in charter school this year.  Obviously something has worked here and, as Joe Nathan of the Center for School Change suggests, “Instead of trying to destroy programs we should learn from the best.”

Trying to make the school the best I can and continually learning from others was my philosophy at Prairie Creek Charter School and is my focus at the new director at ARTech.   This is a contract renewal year for us and we are about to embark on a comprehensive process of self-study after which an evaluation team will visit and report on our school in February.   This report will be presented to our sponsor, Northfield Public Schools.   I frequently visit other charter schools (at the moment we a planning a student/staff visit to Watershed Charter School in Minneapolis) and next week will be participating in a three day training session for charter school leaders at St. Thomas.   These are opportunities for the school to be self-critical and continue to grow.

The problem with the thrust of articles such as the one in today’s Star Tribune is that they seek to create an “us versus them” dynamic between Public Charter School and Public Traditional Schools.  That very much runs contrary to our goal here at ARTech.   We have, and will seek to continue, a healthy working relationship with all the other school and youth organizations in our town.  Much of my time as director is spent seeking advise from fellow administrators and attending meetings and forums with law enforcement agencies, Healthy Community Initiatives and local youth chapters.  I believe there is a mutual respect between us, bourne of understanding that educating young folk is an exhausting but highly rewarding endeavor.

 At ARTech we provide an alternative style of education- project-based learning in a small multi-age community looks different to the traditional school model.   That’s okay, it’s supposed to. Charter schools are charged to innovate and provide choice within the field of public education!   What we share with all the other organizations serving young people is an unerring desire to help students find success both socially and academically in an environment that can support their needs.   

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go and prepare the tofurkey…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2008 12:28 am

    You forgot left-handed in your list of deviations!

  2. Winona Estes permalink
    November 29, 2008 7:16 pm

    Thanks for the positive flow of thoughts. Sometimes it feels like I’m continually trying to swim upstream when the rest of the fish are headed down. Nice to know a few others are swimming in the same direction.

  3. Dori permalink
    December 7, 2008 3:50 pm

    As a parent of 3 school-aged children learning in 3 different educational settings, I have a fairly unique perspective toward Minnesota’s educational systems. I see the merits of each style depending on the personality of the student. One of mine has a “need” to adhere to a strict regimen, one thrives on the in-depth scholarship afforded in a project-based curriculum, and one enjoys the continual ebb and flow progressive education affords as every student works to help guide the progression of subjects studied. I am very lucky that each of these schools is within 20 miles of my home and each other.

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