Charter schools making moves in Southwest

The Studio School opening in September in Lowry Hill; East Harriet-based Stonebridge World School planning building addition

The Studio School in Lowry Hill expects to have 60 to 80 students in grades 9–11 when it opens this fall.

A new charter high school will open this fall in Southwest and another is planning a building addition as it prepares to add more students.

The Studio School will open Sept. 3 in Lowry Hill and will serve students in grades 9–11. Meanwhile, Stonebridge World School in East Harriet is working on a building expansion, set to be complete by fall 2022, to accommodate a new middle school program.

The Studio School will focus on design, engineering and visual and media arts, along with service learning and the liberal arts. Stonebridge will continue to focus on the arts and providing students with a “global” worldview. It plans on using a temporary classroom facility to accommodate the influx of students until the expansion is complete.

Charter schools are publicly funded, tuition-free schools that offer specialized education programs or teaching styles, such as immersion or Montessori. They are independent of school districts and have elected boards that provide governance and oversight. State law requires that new charter schools be approved and overseen by a nonprofit, a school district or a college or university.

Minnesota has 164 charter schools serving approximately 57,000 K–12 students, according to the Department of Education. There are five operating in Southwest: Stonebridge, The Studio School, Minnesota Wildflower Montessori, Hennepin Elementary School and Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield. A sixth, the Academy of Construction and Engineering Sciences, is looking for initial funding to get started, founder Sam Dipaola said.

The Studio School was founded by a group of Twin Cities art teachers who came together for professional development, according to founder and executive director Colleen Brennan. She said the teachers drew inspiration for the arts curriculum from government curriculum in New South Wales, Australia, which combines both art-making and art history into studio courses. Several staff
from the school recently spent two weeks in Australia learning more about that curriculum.

Students at The Studio School will have a 95-minute studio art class four days each week, in addition to classes in core subjects like math and science. On Fridays, they’ll have a service-learning class and an elective class focused on an artistic medium of their choice.

Core classes will be project based, Brennan said, and the school plans on offering 11th- and 12th-graders opportunities to earn college credits through college-in-the-schools courses. Students will come from all across the Twin Cities, Brennan said, and will either carpool or take Metro Transit to get to school.

The school plans on adding 12th grade for the 2020-21 school year. Brennan said they plan on having between 60 to 80 students this coming school year and hope to keep growing from there. “Our goal is to try to add a freshman class [of] 80 to 100 every year,” she said.

In an email, media arts and design teacher Mary Henry said she likes that the school is taking a project-based approach to learning and that she’s looking forward to writing curriculum for her content area. She said the school’s small size will allow teachers to build stronger relationships with their students.

The Studio School is operating out of the First Unitarian Society building near the Walker Art Center, which Brennan said was remodeled a year ago. The seven-classroom space includes a kitchen, a lunchroom and a unisex bathroom.

The nonprofit Novation Education Opportunities is the organization that authorized The Studio School and is responsible for overseeing it.

Stonebridge’s expansion

Stonebridge, meanwhile, is preparing for its 13th year of operation and its 10th in East Harriet. The school served students in kindergarten through sixth grade for its first 11 years before adding seventh grade last fall. It plans on adding eighth grade this school year.

Executive director Barbara Novy said the school received a lot of requests to add the grades, noting that parents appreciate having their kids together in one K–8 school.

Stonebridge will have one seventh-grade class and one eighth-grade class next year, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Shannon Lawler said. She said the school plans on slowly building up to two seventh- grade and two eighth-grade classes.

Stonebridge World School in East Harriet is planning a building expansion in coming years to accommodate a new middle school program.

Stonebridge initially operated out of Plymouth Congregational Church in Stevens Square before moving to East Harriet in 2010. A nonprofit affiliated with the school, called the Stonebridge Building Company, owns the property, since Minnesota law prohibits charter schools from owning land or buildings.

The Stonebridge Building Company is in the process of acquiring a duplex immediately north of the school to accommodate the expansion.

Students at Stonebridge participate in arts, music, theater and service learning, among other activities. The school has a licensed reading specialist who works with students one-on-one and in small groups, and it also participates in the local charter school basketball league.

In addition, it offers a no-cost, before-school drop-off center and busing for students in Minneapolis, Richfield and parts of Bloomington.

Novy said the school focuses on expanding students’ worldview through inquiry-based learning. That could mean looking more broadly at the underpinnings of historical revolutions, rather than just studying the American Revolution, she said. Or it could mean looking at water usage around the world in a science unit about the water cycle.

Just under 15% of Stonebridge students tested were deemed proficient in math by the Department of Education in 2018, and about 24% were proficient in reading. That compares with
a statewide proficiency rate of 58% in math and 60% in reading.

The North Minneapolis-based nonprofit Pillsbury United Communities oversees Stonebridge.