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The Northfield School Board has voted to revoke its sponsorship of Village School.

Here it is at

In the Northfield News:

Charter school will be closed
School board pulls its sponsorship

Adam Johnson, Staff Writer

NORTHFIELD — The Northfield School Board on Monday voted 5-to-2 to not renew its charter contract with the Village School of Northfield.

The decision came after more than an hour of discussion and several months during which the board was presented with multiple studies, site visitation reports and other data that had included concerns about academic accountability and safety at the K-12 public school that had been in operation since 1997 and is Northfield’s first charter school.

The decision must be formally approved by the Minnesota Department of Education, but once the district terminates a charter agreement, that charter school cannot seek another sponsor.

“This is not about not supporting choice, but choice is not good in and of itself,” board Chairwoman Kari Nelson said.

Several board members praised the care and dedication Village School staff members have shown for the approximately 40 students attending the school, but cited a disconnect between the school’s “free and democratic” mission and the accountability requirements set in state and federal law, as well as in the school’s charter agreement.

“Some of the changes we’re asking (the Village School) to make would be a real challenge given the school’s philosophy,” board member Mike Berthelsen said.

Board members also stated concerns over inadequate discipline and the lack of “a set of rigorous expectations set out for every student.”

Village School Director Olivia Frey could not be reached for comment at time of publication, and several Village School students and staff members at the meeting declined to comment on the decision. However, the atmosphere in the high school media center was anything but calm when the decision was made, with several audience members breaking down in tears and jeering the school board.

Prior to the vote for non-renewal, board member Wendy Smith had motioned that the district extend the Village School’s charter agreement for one year with the condition that it seek a new sponsor beyond next year.

“I don’t think Northfield is the appropriate sponsor for this school …,” Smith said, citing the apparent incompatibility between the school’s mission and the expectations of the district. “But we need to encourage and enable them to find a new sponsor.”

Smith said she recognized a need for some reforms within the Village School and that it is not an environment for all students, but pointed out that school officials have announced their intention to begin embedding state standards and implement some computerized testing starting in the fall. She also emphatically asserted that the school has been a benefit to many children.

“For some of these students, they stay and they find a home and they find success,” Smith said.

Board member Paul Hager echoed some of Smith’s statements, and suggested improving communication between the district and its charter schools to avoid a repeat of this situation. Smith and Hager cast the dissenting votes in the final decision to effectively close the school.

Superintendent Chris Richardson, who had recommended the non-renewal, said he was worried about creating a double standard if the district’s expectations for accountability don’t apply equally to all three charter schools in the Northfield area.

“If they’re going to take public dollars they have to be in the same mode as everybody else in terms of accountability of student achievement,” Richardson said.

After opening in 1997, the Village School’s contract was renewed for one year in 2000, and again for two years in 2001. It received a three-year contract renewal in 2003, though Richardson called the basis for the latest renewal a “short review with limited documentation.”

This year, the board drew from site visitations from the Department of Education and the Minnesota Sponsors Assistance Network; letters of concern from the Northfield Police Department; a report detailing potential safety issues by the Fire Marshall’s office; audits and self-analyses from the Village School; and a public hearing May 18, at which more than 60 people attended and more than 30 students, staff and family members spoke out in defense of the school.

Today is the last day of the school year for the Village School, and its graduation ceremony will take place 2 p.m. Saturday in the school’s gymnasium.

— Adam Johnson can be reached at 645-1113 or

From the Village School site

And in the STrib:

Northfield vote will close Village School

The Northfield School Board voted 5-2 Tuesday to withdraw its sponsorship of the Village School, the district’s first charter school.

Emily Johns, Star Tribune

NORTHFIELD, MINN. — Students at Northfield’s first charter school need to start looking for a new school for next year.

The Northfield School Board voted 5-2 Tuesday to withdraw its sponsorship of the nine-year-old Village School of Northfield, a move that will essentially close the school. Board members cited academic performance, student safety and compliance with state education standards as reason for concern.

“I believe this is not the right program for a public school in this place and time and for our district,” said board member Mike Berthelsen, who voted to withdraw the school’s sponsorship. “Though (the school) can work and has worked for some students, we have an obligation to look out for all the students attending.”

The Village School is a democratic, project-based charter school that receives about $500,000 annually in state funding. Students at the school choose when and what they want to learn, and they base their learning around projects such as growing tomatoes or building a boat.

School officials pride themselves on providing a home for at-risk students who struggle in a more traditional school environment. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, 32 percent of the students qualify as special education students and 55 percent are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, meaning they come from low-income families.

“We are looking at a unique population of students at the school,” said board member Wendy Smith, who voted against withdrawing the Village School’s sponsorship. Smith started crying while saying the board should give the Village School a year to find another sponsor. “I think it’s important to give this school a chance.”

District concerns

District officials told the school in March that its sponsorship might not be renewed because of district concerns over student safety and academic performance. The school has not met the state’s definition of adequate progress for the last two years and it has only a 59 percent graduation rate.

In January, Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith sent Superintendent Chris Richardson a letter citing concerns about student safety and behavior. He said police officers have found students selling marijuana downtown during school hours, trespassing at the nearby AmericInn pool and fishing, claiming it was a math assignment.

Charter schools started opening in Minnesota in 1991, and there are now 125 in the state, according to Morgan Brown, director of the school choice division at the state Department of Education. The Village School is only the eighth of these schools to lose its sponsor and be closed.

Charter schools are publicly funded, and sponsors can be school districts, colleges or universities, nonprofit organizations or foundations. If a school district withdraws its sponsorship, it is unlikely that the school could find another sponsor, Brown said.

Plans for next year

Village School parent Marcia Frazier said she was surprised by the decision, and said board members who voted for withdrawing the school’s sponsorship don’t care about her children.

“This district personally failed six of my seven kids,” Frazier said, while daughter Felicia stood by. Felicia Frazier said she refused to go back to the Northfield School District, and would rather be home-schooled by her mother.

Half of the Village School’s 40 students live within the Northfield School District’s boundaries. Richardson said some families have already contacted the Northfield Area Learning Center, a district school for at-risk high school students. Younger students could consider home schooling, or applying to the district’s two other charter schools for admission if they’re not interested in returning to the Northfield School District.

Village School student Chris Lindberg said he thought the school board did the wrong thing.

“I think they’re kind of ignorant. You can’t really know what the school is like if you just visit it a couple times,” said Lindberg, 18. He has been a student at the Village School for five years, and said he would consider going to a different charter school next year.

“It’s a type of group community that they don’t understand,” he said. “I think it was a horrible decision.”

Emily Johns â?¢ 612-673-7460

One Response to “Village School axed by Northfield School Board”

  1. Aleasha O'Brien Says:

    I used to go to that school in 2006 because I rather go to a charter school then deal with all the drama that was in a regular school. It was so much fun at that school at the charter school and I loved it. It was so much fun. We got to go on trips. We got to do fun things. We got to go out to a farm. We got to do all that stuff you got to go ice skating. We got to go a rollerblading. We got to do all that fun stuff. We got to do fun things with friends and we enjoyed it every time we got to do fun things in the winter and the summer and the spring. We did everything and I wish you guys were open still. I don’t know if you guys are or if you guys created a new charter school for students. I hope you guys have more charter schools out there then. Just only a selection of you. We need more charter schools out there from k through 12th grade. That would be awesome in Northfield, Minnesota. Have a great day and I miss being down there

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