Start-up grant approved, enrollment underway
On Thursday, May 4, the Town of May Board of Supervisors granted a Conditional Use Permit and zoning text amendment to the Wilder Foundation, which allows Grove Elementary: A Marine Area Community School to use the facilities at the Wilder Forest. This paved the way for Grove to occupy the former Concordia Language Village buildings in Wilder Forest and for the school to be nestled in a forest setting with extensive features that add to the place- and project-based vision of the school.
The Grove founding board began looking at locations nearly two years ago. Three likely facilities were identified: the current Marine Elementary School, located in Marine on St. Croix; the Wilder Forest site; and Christ Lutheran Church also in Marine. When it became clear that Stillwater Area Schools was not able to discuss the sale of the Marine Elementary building due to a self-imposed stay while legal issues pended, the Grove founders took an in-depth look at Wilder and were impressed with the quality and suitability of the facilities and the unique opportunities they presented to programming.
“At Wilder Forest, our teaching team will have the freedom to incorporate the natural resources, history, arts and civics of the community into our curriculum. We are thrilled that the students at Grove Elementary will be able to experience an elementary education in this unique setting,” said Board Chair Kristina Smitten. “We are grateful to the Wilder Foundation and May Township for collaborating with us on the use of this amazing community asset.”
On Saturday, May 6, more than 100 community members and prospective families came out to the new Grove campus to clean the facilities, which had been vacant for nearly two years.
“The amount of community support from the get-go has been amazing, but Saturday’s large crew really showed how dedicated people are to having a high-quality, welcoming elementary school in this area,” noted Board Co-chair Lisa White. “We are very thankful and humbled by their support.”
On Sunday, May 7, the Grove board hosted an open house. All of the newly hired teachers and the school administrator were present to introduce themselves to the large crowd of parents, students and community members. While the board answered parents’ questions, the new teachers held a special meeting with their prospective students, asking them what their wishes and dreams for their new school were.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with the kids and see the delight on the kids’ — and teachers’ — faces!” board member Lisa Dochniak remarked.
“Because enrollment is now underway, we wanted parents to come out on Sunday to see the buildings and grounds, and meet the teachers, helping them to make informed decisions about the best educational choices for their children,” explained Chair Smitten. She added, “Emails went out last week to the first 25 on each class’ ranked enrollment list. Enrollment forms are due by May 15. Because we have a large waiting list, we expect to give waiting families more information after the May 15 due date.
Start-up grant approved
On April 18 the Minnesota Department of Education announced an award of Federal Charter School Program funding to Grove Elementary: A Marine Area Community School for the kindergarten through sixth-grade charter school in Marine on St. Croix opening fall 2017. The $175,000 award will support necessary start-up activities to open the school.
Placed-based learning at Grove Elementary will include the environment, arts, history and civic involvement. And, the teacher powered school will rely on teacher expertise to select and implement curriculum, as well as assess overall effectiveness. This model supports student achievement and teachers as leaders and decision makers in the implementation of the school.
“We are very excited about the grant announcement. These funds will allow for the purchase of curriculum materials, hiring of school startup technical advisors, and professional development for new staff,” stated Lisa White, founding board member.
As a non-district public school, charter schools benefit from state general education funding but cannot levy or bond for taxes. “These resources are critical to the school’s ability to continue on a positive path to be ready to open as the school is starting from scratch,” stated Kristina Smitten, founding board member.
“The amount of support from MDE, the School Authorizer, and the community has been amazing. With this funding there is no insurmountable hurdle to our opening in the Fall. We are so excited for the future school,” stated Lisa White.
Founding board members include Jon Dettmann, Lisa Dochniak, Marine Mayor Glen Mills, Kristina Smitten and Lisa White. The authorizer for the Marine Area Community School is the Minnesota Guild.
Board meetings are held the third Saturday of the month. The next board meeting will be on May 20 at the Grove site.
For more information about the school vision and startup activities, visit www.marineareaschool.org.