NMU reauthorized its charter with local Marquette school, North Star Academy on Tuesday Feb. 10. The K-12 small learning community is a tuition-free public school that was chartered in 1997 by NMU.
Charter public schools, not to be confused with charter private schools, serve as an alternative option for parents who may be dissatisfied or uneasy about typical educational institutions. Public schools are maintained with the help of tax dollars from citizens throughout the city and state and charter schools are maintained in this way as well. However, public schools must follow specific state guidelines on what they can teach and how they teach it.
Charter schools are not under the stiff educational regulations that public schools are under. They have the opportunity to practice alternative forms of education that may not be allowed by government regulations.
North Star Academy practices alternative project-based learning assignments outside of the classroom. According to Derek Hall, the assistant vice president of the NMU Identity, Branding and Marketing office, North Star’s students have excelled in certain areas as a result.
“They’ve made good progress in their reading scores this last year,” Hall said. Even though charter schools are publicly funded, they are governed by a group or organization under a contract or charter within the state. According to Hall this is where NMU comes in.
“We are here to help and assist them, and ultimately hold them to a standard,” Hall said.
According to a study done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2012, over 49 million students were enrolled in standard public schools around the country. While public schools are a more popular choice among parents, charter schools have seen an increase in enrollment in recent years. NCES found that from 2000 to 2012 the number of charter schools increased from 1,500 to 5,700.
NMU President Fritz Erickson played a key role in North Star Academy’s contract extension. North Star’s current contract with NMU ends in June and the new contract re-authorizes the school for two years with the option to add an additional two more years when it meets certain performance requirements.
Erickson said the extension is a standard move for NMU to make.
“It really is a normal part of what we do in terms of the authorization process,” Erickson said. “One of the things that we do that we are excited about is exploring partnerships in terms of curricular design and development. It allows students to be able to flow seamlessly to Northern in a variety of programs, including career and technical programs.”
President Erickson said he looks forward to NMU continuing its relationship with North Star.
“It’s going to be a nice partnership in terms of what North Star Academy is doing relative to working with us,” Erickson said.
President Erickson isn’t the only one who is excited. Senior education major Nate Nastase said he is also happy about the contract and its many possibilities, not only for North Star Academy but for NMU students as well.
“A lot of people have mixed feelings about charter schools but things like [the contract] are things educators take into consideration when choosing to take a job,” Nastase said. “A big part of it is the student teaching, [the contract] can potentially open up more opportunities for education majors.”