What a joy to present the opening keynote for Teacher Institute Days in August to the teachers of the brand new Minnesota Math and Science Academy (MMSA) in St. Paul, Minnesota. The school opened September 2 with approximately 260 students in grades K-6 in a neighborhood near the state capitol. Their beautiful facility, painted with bright, bold colors, has impressive technology and laboratory facilities to support the school’s emphasis on Math, Science and Technology. These are the STEM graduates of the future that we desperately need in Minnesota and beyond.
I was intrigued by what brought the staff to MMSA. Some came from other charter public schools and some came from district schools. Rosilyn Monique Carroll-Blakey (left) is the Reading Specialist for the school. She told me her mother serves on the board of the school.
Briar-Rose Jacobson (right) came to MMSA to work in office administration and communications. The recent Concordia Masters graduate told me “I have always been passionate about education. I totally believe in what our school will be able to bring to St. Paul. I hope I can inspire a change within the school’s students that will spread like wildfire through their minds and hearts to prepare them for the world ahead of them.” She now enjoys how the students remember her from the summer and look to her as a mentor.
I had the privilege of returning to the school staff meeting October 1, at the invitation of School Director Mustafa Icel (right of me in photo). Antonio Cardona, a member of the school’s authorizer team at Pillsbury United Communities, was invited as well (left of me). The school had a warm and inviting feeling, with hallways covered with posters, inspiring phrases, and student work. Five weeks later, there was no question the teachers were tired. “The honeymoon is ending,” said one. Teaching young minds can be exhausting—and even more difficult when a school is brand new to both students and staff. No wonder they are tired!
I asked for questions around my earlier talk about the pioneering story and the myths of chartering. One teacher responded, “I used what you said on the first day. A parent asked me about the difference between a charter school and public school. I told her that a charter school is a public school, and that a charter school is organized around mission, where a district school is organized around neighborhood.” I loved her creative distinction between the two, and her emphasis that her school had its own mission, as opposed to being part of a larger, less distinctive district entity.
This reinforced what another teacher recently told me in Chicago. “After hearing you talk, I now tell everyone that I work at a charter public school, not just a charter school. I almost always get a response—what do you mean by that?” She said that opens important opportunities to educate others about the differences between charter schools and district schools.
I was delighted that Director Icel provided a personally-signed copy of my book, Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story as a development tool to each member of the staff, board of directors, and authorizer team of Minnesota Math and Science Academy during my October visit. After all, their school is located just a few miles north of the Minnesota state capitol where the first charter school law was “born” back in 1991.
Congratulations to Director Icel, Principal Murat Oguz, and the entire MMSA team on your school opening. I wish you—and especially your students—a year filled with success!