New School Now Enrolling
When schools open again this fall after the summer vacation Annandale area residents will have an additional option to consider for educating their students. A new public charter school, the Jane Goodall Environmental Sciences Academy, is currently enrolling students for the 2015-16 year and will be based out of buildings leased at Camp Courage on Cedar Lake.
According to founding board member Bob DeBoer of Maple Lake, the school intends to open with 100 students in grades six through 12. It will have an emphasis on outdoor work with nature, animals, agriculture and other similar activities. Future enrollment will not exceed 150. Goodall, the school’s namesake, is a researcher and conservationist made famous by her work with chimpanzees.
“We were given permission by Jane Goodall to use her name in naming this school. We’re only the second school in the country that has had permission from her to use her name,” said DeBoer. Public information meetings are being held in the upcoming days and weeks, and the enrollment period closes on Wednesday, Feb. 18.
DeBoer envisions an experience-based learning program unique to the area in which students pursue projects of their own choosing, and teacher-advisors make sure that the different aspects of those projects meet state standards in various subjects. “We anticipate that there will be more students wanting to attend the school than we will have openings in the first year,” DeBoer said. A minimum number of students needed to begin would be about 80.
A regional draw is expected, with public meetings being held in St. Cloud, Big Lake, Monticello and Buffalo. No meetings were planned in Annandale or Maple Lake, though a 6 p.m. meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 29, at Clearwater Town Hall, and another is set for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5, at Silver Creek Town Hall.
DeBoer said the school plans to hire five to six teacher advisors to oversee 17 to 18 students each. There are also plans for two special education teachers and additional paraprofessionals. There is currently a four-member board, but the administrative staff will be limited. “Teachers will take on administrative functions and will be compensated for doing it, so we won’t have the big administration office expense,” said DeBoer. “It’s a flatter organization than a top-down thing.”
While the school will be new this fall, the idea behind it is not. An initial effort to obtain approval from the county to build the school on a parcel near Lake Maria State Park in 2007 ran afoul of zoning regulations that required schools to be built within 1.5 miles of city limits.
In support of that zoning regulation, and because of concern over declining enrollment at the time, both the Annandale School District and the city of Annandale had opposed the charter school proposal in letters to the county planning commission.
When the county commissioners took up the matter in May of 2007, administrators from Annandale and four other traditional school districts around the area opposed the amendment, and it was voted down, though commissioners left the impression that they would be willing to entertain the idea again in the future if a number of issues could be resolved to their satisfaction.
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