Duluth News Tribune, Thursday, December 26, 2013 – Harbor City Middle School may be next charter offering

imagesHarbor City Middle School may be next charter offering

   As officials of Duluth Edison Charter Schools delve into plans for a new high school, Harbor City International School is considering expanding in the other direction.

   Harbor City hopes to adda middle school to its offerings, possibly starting with asixth grade as early as next fall.

   “We’re in the very early stages, but we’re exploring expansion,” said Ted Buck, interim co-director of the downtown charter high school.

   That’s why officials of both Harbor City and the K-8 Duluth Edison Charter Schools welcomed the news that their schools were named to a state list allowing both to apply for expansion money. Duluth Edison plans to open a new 600-student high school.

   The Minnesota Department of Education says 24 top-performing charter schools are eligible to apply for grants to expand or duplicate their education models. The “High-Quality Charter Schools” that can apply for grants from the Minnesota Federal Charter Schools Program Grant Project all havea track record of increasing student achievement. The schools were picked based on state test scores, graduation rates (for high schools) and demographics, according to the department of education.

   Both Duluth Edison’s North Star Academy and Harbor City were named “reward schools” this year by the state for being among the top 15 percent in Minnesota for student performance. Harbor City, which earned the label two consecutive years, and Duluth Edison both plan to apply for the grant money.

   Harbor City could expand within its existing building at 332 W. Michigan St., Buck said, as its lease runs through 2017 and there is room to grow. There are other possibilities downtown, he said.

   The plan would be to add grades six through eight, starting with sixth grade the first year and seventh and eighth grades incrementally, as Duluth Edison plans to do with its high school. Buck said the school would plan for 25-40 students in each of the new grades, depending on the facility and interest.    “We know there is interest,” he said, from parents of students from the Duluth school district, Holy Rosary School, Marshall School and Duluth Edison. “We hear it daily.”

  imgres-1 Duluth Edison, with about 1,300 enrolled, plans to build a high school or renovate an existing building such as the former Central High School, if owner Independent School District 709 allows a sale. A district policy prohibits the sale to other K-12 schools.

   Getting the grant money would be “one more push” for creating a high school more quickly, said Tami Siebert, president of the Duluth Edison board of directors.

   “It feels like the stars are aligning for us,” Siebert said. “That was our biggest concern. How do you start it all up? This is definitely good news.”

   The award money ranges from $100,000 to $225,000 per year for three years and is meant for planning and the first two years of operation. Schools can apply in spring 2014. The grants come from a larger federal grant that the state received from the U.S. Department of Education to increase charter school quality and authorizer accountability. Authorizers oversee charter schools.

   Harbor City — which enrolls about 200 students — is working through the application process for middle school expansion and is also still searching for a new executive director to replace John Haire, who left last year.

   Buck said the grant opportunity was a surprise, “but we definitely want to take advantage.”

   He sees the offerings of Harbor City as different from Duluth Edison and the Duluth school district, and the choices healthy for the area.

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