The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 7, 2013

Henderson charter school gets approval to include K-5 grades

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

HENDERSON — The third try was the charm for Minnesota New Country School, which will expand with a long-sought elementary curriculum next fall.

The Henderson charter school, which now accommodates grades six through 12, will enroll an anticipated 50 kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

New Country Director Dee Thomas said recent informational meetings for parents in St. Peter and Mankato have been encouraging for the school’s recruiting efforts.

“We’d like to start with 50 and by the end of the third year be at 100,” Thomas said. “We’ve been having meetings on this for two years, and now we’re ready to kick it into high gear.”

The school’s application was denied twice by the state in its quest to start a grade school.

The Minnesota Department of Education first rejected a plan that would have involved a partnership with Le Sueur-Henderson Public Schools.

The second denial came after a request was made to start an elementary school whose operations would be separate from the existing charter school, which has 115 students. 

Under the approved plan, New Country will be one school with two campuses and shared staff.

 The Henderson site of the elementary school is yet to be revealed, but school officials said they should have a location secured in the next few weeks.

“The biggest hurdles have been jumped,” elementary program start-up coordinator Bryan Rossi said. “What needs to be done now is finalize enrollment.”

Once that is done, the school can hire staff based upon student numbers. Thomas said the working ratio is one teacher for every 15 students. 

School officials said 45 families have so far expressed interest in enrolling their elementary-age children. Thomas said there’s an understandable parental wariness involved because of the two previous application rejections.

“Everyone’s a little gun-shy, so they’re sitting back a little and waiting to see what happens.”

Thomas said New Country draws students from a 45-mile radius and provides bus transportation to and from towns in about a dozen school districts

Minnesota New Country School, a public charter school that receives state funding, opened in 1994. Under the charter school teaching model, instruction is project-based with each student receiving an individualized learning plan.