Old Concordia Language Villages campus may house charter school

A K-6 charter school slated to open this fall will likely make its home in the former Concordia Language Villages campus in May Township’s Wilder Forest.

According to founding board member Lisa White, Marine Area Community School’s board decided Jan. 21 to pursue lease negotiations with the Wilder Foundation for use of the vacant campus.

“This property is very unique in that it was originally a school,” White said. “A lot of the hurdles that we’d have to overcome for fulfilling building codes and things like that, those have already been dealt with. It’s fully handicap accessible. There’s full heating and air conditioning. Several of the buildings already have sprinklers in them.”

Marine Area Community School was born from discussions among community members that began in 2015. Organizers make it clear the idea was not a reaction to planned school closures in District 834 — they say the process for creating the charter school had begun before closures were announced and will continue regardless of the outcome of lawsuits over the closures.

As a charter school, the institution is tuition-free, but it will take an approach that differs from traditional public schools.

“Marine Area Community School is going to be a teacher-powered school,” White said. “We won’t have a principal or executive director.”

The teaching team will make all decisions on curriculum and assessments, she said, but that’s only one of the aspects that will make the school unique.

“We will be a place-based education model, a place-based learning center,” she said. “So we are going to draw on the aspects of the St. Croix River Valley and draw that into our learning model. So history will be an important component. The arts will be an important component. The environment … and civics will be a big part of that because our community is so civics- and volunteer-oriented.”

White believes all those components will fit together well in the proposed school site.

“The location itself within Wilder Forest really does fulfill a lot of the mission and vision of the school in that we want a lot of the curriculum to be centered around the natural resources of the area,” she said.

The former Concordia Language Villages campus wasn’t the first site the board considered. Last year, founding board member Kristina Smitten said the school hoped to lease the current Marine Elementary building from the Stillwater Area Public School District, if the school closed as planned. But negotiations for a possible lease couldn’t begin, due to ongoing litigation over the school closure.

“The [District 834] school board approved a resolution last April to stay action on the closing of schools, active marketing and/or sale of buildings and implementation of boundary changes pending a decision by the Court of Appeals,” said Carissa Keister, community engagement coordinator for District 834. “The stay limits the discussion that can take place regarding the future of Marine Elementary.”

Marine Area Community School also considered locating in Christ Lutheran Church in Marine on St. Croix, but the available space was limited.

“We would be able to accommodate more children at Wilder,” White said.

Although the charter school board has yet to determine the school’s official capacity, it hopes to have room for 25-student classes, with a single class in each grade — a total of 175 students.

As of Jan. 23, the school had received 201 applications, White said.

By March, the school expects to know if it will receive a grant to help with initial program planning and implementation costs. Start-up grants for charter schools are funded federally but administered through the state.

Despite the work left to be done, White is confident the school will be prepared to open by fall.

“There’s really nothing that can stop us,” she said. “The community’s been so supportive.”

For more information on the charter school, go to marineareaschool.org.

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com