Blog

The Start of something new!

It’s springtime and Voyageurs High School has just sent forward eleven graduates who are ready to set sail on their new adventures in life. I’ve known them for a year and I can guarantee that no matter how many more years I’m in this world of Education I will have a special memory of them. Each of them in their own way allowed me to get to know them. Some would offer quiet greetings as we passed in the hallway while others would visit me for long chats. One good natured student would appear in my doorway on a weekly basis and demand that I send them home. I never gave in to their wishes and this student proved to many the skills they own as a young adult.

It is my hope that they visit often and tell stories of their travels from all over the world. I hope they are finding comfort and happiness when needed as well. While these graduates go forward it slowly starts the process of looking ahead to the new year. There are spots to fill and policies to review, new schedules to implement and ideas to grow. This is the process that keeps many of us young.

Spring Fever and Expedition Days

Tomorrow students from our school will be heading out for all or parts of the day to give back to our community. This will be done in the form of community service projects. We’ll be walking dogs at the Animal Shelter, working with area youth at the local Boys/Girls Club, organizing at the Food Shelf and making quilts for donation. It’s a way to give back to the community that supports our efforts as a school. This opportunity also provides exposure for our students to work/meet others and to develop relationships. Our students have so much to offer, big hearts and a desire to make change. Sounds like the ingredients for a great day!

The Role of the School Authorizer

THE CASE FOR LEGALLY DEFINING
THE ROLE & RESPONSIBILITIES of CHARTER SCHOOL AUTHORIZERS

Ever since the beginning of the charter school movement, with the enactment of Minnesota’s first in the nation charter school law over 25 years ago, the role and responsibilities of authorizers (then sponsors) has been a central question.

In the very beginning, sponsoring often meant nothing more than a school district signing a piece of paper without really doing much more. Some individuals thought it meant being a guide, a mentor, or a friend of the school. Others thought it meant doing a visit or two and some monitoring. Over time, there was a recognition that sponsors did have some role and responsibilities, although it was not exactly agreed upon or clear what those responsibilities were to sponsors or schools.

No matter what it meant to people, circumstances and situations made it clearer that sponsors had some responsibility to ensure that schools were held accountable to some standard of performance – if nothing more than fulfilling legal and moral duties.

As the charter school movement grew and more organizations became sponsors, there were efforts to provide technical assistance and training to sponsors. In time, these efforts were seen as inadequate as not all sponsors participated in the training or availed themselves of the technical assistance. While not every sponsor participated in these efforts, the expectations of what sponsoring meant grew by the year. As expectations became clearer, it also became apparent that the fee sponsors could collect by law was inadequate – if sponsors were to even undertake basic oversight of the schools.

After several years of discussion, the charter school movement went to the legislature in 2009 with a proposal to better define some of the tasks involved in sponsoring schools. The proposal also called for reframing the role by changing the term sponsors to authorizers, in recognition of different expectations. The legislation adopted by the legislature also required that sponsors/authorizers demonstrate, for the first time, that they had the capacity to do oversight of charters, and that the MN Department of Education would review their performance on a regular basis. In turn, the law increased the amount of the fees that an authorizer could get for doing its oversight responsibilities.

The new expectations for authorizers led a number of sponsors to announce that they would no longer serve as a sponsor/authorizer, which led to a scramble over a period of years while schools searched for new authorizers.

At the same time that sponsors were leaving, others were trying to figure out how to meet the requirements to become approved authorizers, and schools scrambled to find approved authorizers. Further, the MN Department of Education began defining what it believed were the responsibilities of an authorizer, and began designing the performance review process for authorizers. While authorizers had input in the design of the review process, they were still trying to figure out what the reframing of authorizing meant, while attempting to implement the new expectations.

All of these events occurring simultaneously in a relatively short number of years have led to some tension and frustrations between schools and authorizers; authorizers and the Department; and schools and the Department about the role and responsibilities of authorizers.  Those tensions and frustrations have made themselves manifest through complaints about:

  • the Department not understanding the role of authorizers and, at times, asking authorizers to take actions beyond authorizer authority;
  • the Department dealing with compliance issues through authorizers, instead of with schools as they would with any other public school;
  • the authorizers performance process reviews and the impact on authorizers, and the state of authorizing;
  • authorizers micromanaging of schools;
  • authorizers placing overly burdensome paperwork expectations on schools;
  • the Department creating “rules” without any authority; and
  • the authorizers asking how they can respect school autonomy given pressure by the Department to cross over into the schools’ responsibilities.
None of these complaints individually means that the authorizing system needs to be examined holistically. However, taken together they provide ample evidence that it is time to do so, beginning with a more specific definition of the role and responsibilities of authorizers.

Welcome to 2017

We’ve started out strong to begin a new year. We increased the number of students on our honor roll list by 40% after two grading periods. We have also identified our two end of the year trips for those high school students that meet the requirements. This year the choices are San Francisco and Philadelphia. We will be hosting another Parent night on Jan 19th from 4:30-6:30pm. Students will be sharing their work and a community meal will be offered as well. We will also continue to monitor the upcoming legislative session for issues concerning Education and specifically ones concerning Charter Schools.

Meet kids where they’re at

From the school’s Board retreat this last fall came this guiding phrase “Meet kids where they’re at”. Our interpretation here at Voyageurs is that we will do that by maintaining academic rigor, holding all to higher levels of accountability and creating a system of support so that no child is faceless. These early positions are bearing fruit as the number of honor roll students in this last grading period went up by 15 over the first. Students and staff have settled into an environment that is consistent as well as responsive.

School Attendance is Important

School attendance is a huge part of of every student’s ability to succeed. Time in class is so very helpful from not only the academic portion but form the social perspective as well. The attached link can provide you with many good ideas for attendance success.

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If you have any specific questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

End of Hex 1

What’s a Hex? That was a question that I asked when I first joined the Voyageurs team. A Hex is based on a Hexagon or 6 sided shape. Our school year is divided into 6 grading periods of 6 weeks each. With shorter grading periods students have better chances for success. Electives also run 6 weeks but some can run for 12 weeks depending on the nature of the subject content. Teachers are also able to design classes that can meet the needs of their students sooner by not being locked into quarter or semester long courses.

Voyageurs Expeditionary School

Welcome to Voyageurs! We’re a public charter school located in Bemidji, Mn. We currently work with students in grades 6-12. With class size limits of 16 we offer all the benefits that a small school can bring to your student with hands on learning opportunities, service to others and environmental stewardship. I’ll be updating this blog periodically to share not only information about our school but to keep you informed regarding educational issues in our local/state community involving charter schools.

Currently we are off to a good start with our 12th graders in North Dakota on their annual environmental education energy tour. New students have embraced our learning community and are showing very positive efforts. Both our Middle School and High Schools have recently selected their student council representatives as well.