By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
WALDORF — The Minnesota Department of Education has approved a charter authorizing the opening of several technical-focused, project-based public charter high schools in southern Minnesota.
“This means now we are a school district the same way that the regional district schools are school districts and are able to accept students (and receive state per-pupil funding),” said Board Chair Joan Arbisi Little. “That’s why it’s significant for us. It’s something the commissioner of education is willing to stand behind.”
In collaboration with the area business community and post-secondary institutions, the schools will aim to give students a jump-start on technical skills while identifying pathways into various industry sectors in need of trained workers, among other things.
Little said Waldorf Technical Academy is the first school being developed in partnership with Innovative Quality Schools and EdVisions Schools, which is Technical Academies’ authorizer.
The school will aim to serve the Mankato, Owatonna, Waseca, Albert Lea, Faribault, Blue Earth, Wells, Janesville and surrounding areas.
Little said the hope is to raise $250,000 in corporate sponsorships and private donations by May in order to open in the fall of this year. She said the board also has a number of grant requests out.
Little said the funds are needed for curriculum, development, recruitment and hiring staff, among various other things. The ability to open will depend on securing the funding, she said.
The effort began with the Chamber of Commerce of Southern Minnesota, which has since dissolved. The Chamber saw a “skill-gap issue” in the area’s workforce and put together a board of educators and area business professionals to begin planning schools to make up for that gap.
The high schools will be modeled in part after the New Country School in Henderson but with a business twist.
Little said over the next two years, the hope is to have four schools open, although it’s too early for specifics. One school is planned for Fairmont, which will serve the Jackson, St. James, Blue Earth, Madelia and Truman areas.
As a charter school, the school’s per-pupil funding would come from the state, following those students from whatever district they are currently in.
The Waldorf school may be housed in the Waldorf school building, which has been vacant for several years. The Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton school district approved last year the sale of the building to the group for $1. But there has been discussion of setting up a lease agreement instead, Little said.
Little said she’s hoping for about 100 students the first year.
For more information, visit www.technicalacademies.com or contact Joan Arbisi Little at 651-210-1860 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.