There is a newly created year-round school housed in the Hamilton Elementary in La Crosse.
It didn't take long to realize the energy and passion the principal has for his two jobs at Hamilton Elementary, near Gundersen Lutheran. He serves as principal for the two schools housed in one building -- the SOTA (School of Technology and Arts) and the newly formed year-round school. One is a charter school and the other is a choice school, and both are part of the public school district.
The year-round 45-15 school calendar, which does not increase the number of school days, but rather spreads out the learning days across the calendar year and enables remediation or enrichment during the 15 days off.
My conversation with this principal has re-enforced the belief that Minnesota's politicians have developed a wasteful charter school system that splinters our tax dollars and duplicates services -- all at a loss for the taxpayer and eventually for our students.
I believe Minnesota's charter system results in too many additional administrators and support personnel, loss of flexibility in personnel management, decreased public accountability, ineffective use of floor space and much more.
Was it Minnesota's reasoning in the 1990s that the creation of a separate system of charter schools would bring about instructional innovation and increased student achievement? I think so, and some of this has happened within the charters, but certainly not to the degree expected.
Was it our state leaders' plan in the 1990s to encourage public school districts to innovate for the purpose of enhancing student achievement? I believe so, but change can come very slowly in some situations where adult needs are placed before student needs.
All of this comes full circle when we understand what the La Crosse Public School System is able to accomplish because of its innovations. Coming together for the welfare of all children, resources are put to work in an effective and creative way, the Hamilton Elementary way, a choice school and a charter school sharing one principal, one office, one support staff, one specialist staff, and one building, but each with its own set of classroom teachers, and each with its own separate system of delivering instruction.
Is this what should or could happen here in Winona? Could our charters and District 861 forge an alliance to create a district similar to what La Crosse experiences? Through cost savings, would we be better able to deliver diverse educational opportunities, such as year-round school to our families?
Should this be the next chapter of educational reform for all of Minnesota? When we do what is right for our children, we will also be doing what is right for adults.
Jeanne Nelson is a member of the Winona Area Public Schools board.