Insight News

Feb 11th

New Minneapolis school seeks to close the achievement gap

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Hiawatha Leadership Academy will be the first Minnesota elementary school modeled closely on the nation's highest-performing inner city schools when it opens in south Minneapolis on August 27. Hiawatha Leadership Academy will be the first Minnesota elementary school modeled closely on the nation's highest-performing inner city schools when it opens in south Minneapolis on August 27. The result of two years of planning by a group of prominent community leaders, the Academy is adapting the design of urban elementary schools nationally recognized for closing the achievement gap, including Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo, Colorado, KIPP SHINE in Houston, and Milwaukee College Preparatory in Milwaukee. Hiawatha Leadership Academy might possibly have the longest combined school day/year of any Minnesota public school. The Academy's mission is to create citizen scholars who provide leadership for the common good.

Parents of more than 200 area children have submitted applications since Hiawatha Leadership Academy's enrollment period began in March. The Academy will open this fall with kindergarten and first grade students, and expand by one grade per year. Serving the south Minneapolis neighborhoods south of I-94 and north of Hwy. 62 between Lyndale and Hiawatha Avenues (including greater Phillips, Central, Powderhorn, and Whittier neighborhoods, among others), the Academy will be located in the school wing of St. Joan of Arc Church in the Regina neighborhood just east of 35W.

"Our goals are clear: close the achievement gap and prepare all of our children for college and leadership," explains Hiawatha Leadership Academy Founder and President for Advancement & Operations Jon Bacal, a neighborhood parent, who notes that only an estimated 5% of Black and Latino children in the Twin Cities currently graduate from four-year college. A former education advisor to the City of St. Paul, Bacal previously co-founded Twin Cities Academy, a high-performing public charter school in St. Paul. The Academy's President for Academic Affairs and Principal, Shoua Faith Moua, previously served as an administrator and teacher in the St. Paul school district. "What's truly exciting is the opportunity to put into practice what many educators have long known works for inner city children," explains Moua.

Like its model schools, Hiawatha Leadership Academy will implement nationally proven school design components such as an intense focus on early literacy development, frequent assessment and analysis of individual student progress, a much longer school day and year (50% more learning time than average), high expectations for teacher and student performance-including a "whatever it takes for every student to achieve" attitude, music and arts education, and a long-term emphasis on four-year college preparation. The Academy will also be one of the few Minnesota schools to feature the highly successful Direct Instruction reading program along with the Core Knowledge curriculum, and has been selected as one of the Minnesota Reading Corps' pilot sites for implementation of the proven "Age 3 to Grade 3" literacy acquisition program developed at the University of Minnesota.

Hiawatha Leadership Academy is governed by an active board of directors comprised of respected Twin Cities area educators and civic leaders, including Dr. Kristin Anderson, the former superintendent of the Rockford and Fertile Beltrami school districts (Board Chair); Rev. Dr. Craig Lewis, former senior pastor of Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis (Co-Founder); Dr. John McVea, entrepreneurship professor at the University of St. Thomas (Board Vice Chair); Jim Bartholomew, education policy director of the Minnesota Business Partnership (Board Treasurer); Dr. Ernest Davenport, professor of assessment at the University of Minnesota; Al Fan, former General Mills marketing executive; State Senator David Hann; Sean Kershaw, president of the Citizens League; Katie Barrett Kramer, former Teach For America teacher in New York City

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