Charting the right course: Local charter schools praised by state organization
BEMIDJI — Paula Hart toured local charter schools on Wednesday with interest.
"I grew up in very traditional classrooms with a very traditional education," said Hart, CEO and president of Volunteers of America–Minnesota. "It wasn’t necessarily always a good fit for me, and it’s so exciting to see the amount of choice and the different varieties in ways that kids can learn.
"It’s almost like a Baskin-Robbins, (so many) flavors because vanilla isn’t for everybody."
Volunteers of America-Minnesota (VOA-MN) is one of the state’s largest health and human services organizations. With an annual budget of about $44 million, its services range from residential care and community-based services for the young and old to working with special-needs individuals toward self-sufficiency.
One part of its work is serving as the authorizer for 15 charter schools throughout Minnesota (a 16th is pending approval from the state).
"We track everything from special education and finance and board governance and academic performance," said Stephanie Olsen, the senior manager of VOA-MN’s charter school authorizing program.
Hart was in the area to tour two local schools for which VOA-MN serves as the authorizer: TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School, and Schoolcraft, which also was awarded VOA-MN’s school finance award.
"We’re very proud of the school performance for all of the schools in our portfolio," said Olsen, who visits the charter schools each fall and spring, "… and the collaboration that we bring … we’re also pleased with our record with the state and oversight our team provides."
Hart said charter schools fit into VOA-MN’s umbrella of services as it is an "A to Z" health and human services organization.
"Education is the key to so many things," she said. "We see (charter schools), in our continuum, as a way to help support successful future citizens and community members."
Secondly, she said charter schools serve as "Petri labs for innovation," where fresh ideas are introduced and tested.
After visiting TrekNorth and Schoolcraft, Hart and Olsen also visited the Naytahwaush Community Charter School, for which VOA-MN also serves as the authorizer.