The Little Engine That Did

Friendship Academy of Fine Arts, a charter public school in south Minneapolis, began in 2001 with 37 students. Four years ago their authorizer, Minneapolis Public Schools, was recommending closure based on poor academic test results.

This fall (renamed) Friendship Academy of the Arts (FAA) expects to open with 160 students in K-6, with over 97% of students on free and reduced lunch. This year students will be bused from North and South Minneapolis, two suburban communities of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, and now, with special grant funding, even from St. Paul. Their re-enrollment rate is about 80%.

Why the growth? On July 30, 2015, FAA was ranked the top “Beating the Odds” School in both reading and math proficiency, according to the Star Tribune. Beating the Odds Schools are those with highest proficiency among Twin Cities metropolitan schools with at least 85% poverty. The numbers are exceptional:  90.3% proficiency in math and 83.3% proficiency in Reading. And don’t think for a minute that their focus on arts takes away from the “hard” content. FAA also had 71.4% proficiency in Science. Wow.

This is the story of a little school with giant leaders who wouldn’t give up. It is the Little Engine that Did.

I remember talking with their then-Executive Director Nell Collier a year ago. Her passion and enthusiasm made an impression on me. I loved the focus of their school on the Arts. But most of all, I loved her attitude. We are doing well, but we must do better, she told me. High expectations were the norm. So was action. So was possibility.

Their mission? To educate children to be confident, creative, and competent citizens. Their vision? To empower learners to find meaning and understanding through the arts, which include: dance, music, theatre, literature, media and visual.

Arts at this school are viewed as integral to the learning process—not a fringe or add-on. Maybe that’s one piece of their success. But there is much more. Check out Thursday’s blogpost.