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Project-based learning to be hallmark of proposed charter school in Willmar

WILLMAR — Technical Academies of Minnesota plans to offer a different option for secondary students in the area, but some parts of the experience will still be a little traditional.

TAM is a series of tuition-free public charter schools seeking state approval to open charter schools in Willmar, Owatonna, Rochester and Jackson. The state Department of Education hasn’t given final approval for the school in Willmar yet, but informational meetings have been held in Willmar this month to gauge interest in the school. A decision from the state is expected at the end of this week.

The Willmar school, for grades 7-12, will offer project-based learning in a multicultural setting, consultant Doug Kinnick said at an informational meeting Saturday. About 20 people attended the meeting.

Teachers will work with small groups of students to develop “rigorous projects” that will help them learn the academic standards spelled out by the state. A database called Project Foundry will show students and advisors how different projects fit in with state standards.

The school will still have a more traditional math classroom, because other schools have found that it’s necessary to meet math requirements, Doug Kinnick said. Students will also have required reading time, too.

Students will have to participate in all testing required by the state, and the school will have to follow state guidelines for the number of instructional hours in a school year.

A typical day will begin at 8 a.m. and run until 3 p.m., Doug Kinnick said.

It will include time for students to meet with their teachers to discuss progress on projects. It will include time for everyone in the school to be reading and also allow students a chance to leave the school for internships, work experience, college classes or community service.

Since state approval isn’t yet final, some things like food service and transportation haven’t been worked out yet.

When a parent asked about extra-curricular activities, Tammie Kinnick, a member of the TAM School Board, said Community Christian School in Willmar will include TAM students in band, choir and extra-curricular activities. The collaboration will be about activities and will not have to do with religion, she said.

If the school is approved, enrollment and teacher hiring will begin this spring. Fundraising will move into gear, too, to provide furniture and equipment for the school.

Most of the staff is expected to be on board by May. Teachers will be trained in project-based learning and get to know their students over the summer, Doug Kinnick said.

The school has space for 150 students, 25 students per grade. Tammie Kinnick said a minimum of 75 students will be needed to open the school and make it financially feasible.

The school will be located in Cottage 8 on the MinnWest Technology Campus. The building will have a view of the lake and will be near businesses that could be involved with student projects or providing work experience.

The building was gutted by fire in October and currently is without a roof. Tammie Kinnick said repairs will begin as soon as weather allows and are expected to be well before school starts.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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