Minneapolis charter school rocks to raise moneyby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
A Minneapolis charter school needs to raise about $35,000 by the end of the month to avoid laying off teachers. Watershed High School ran into some financial problems this year, but state education officials say the school is taking the right steps to overcome them.
Minneapolis, Minn. — At Watershed High School, art covers the walls, students' lockers, even the students themselves. One day recently, it was suit day at Watershed, but that doesn't mean typical office attire. One student wears a tie with a tank top, another pairs a jacket with long strands of beads and a velvet hat. The students are a bit unconventional, and that's one reason they're drawn to this school.
"This school is so wonderful," said Watershed junior Iris Sandgren. "If this school closes, I'm getting my GED. Seriously."
Sandgren is making fruit smoothies in a class that combines food, science and cooking. Watershed is located above the City of Lakes Waldorf School in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, and while it's not technically a Waldorf school, it takes a similar approach that focuses on creative thinking and respect for nature. The arts are an integral part of classes ranging from geography to anthropology.
Another student making smoothies, Olivia Faith-Kobs, said she goes by the name Iccan. She said she transferred to another charter school at the beginning of this school year.
"I was feeling just a little out of ease with this school. Last year it wasn't quite as good as it is this year, but they've really shaped up," Iccan said. "I did not enjoy it there. Most of the people there were more 'normal-ish."
Iccan said she was back at Watershed after two weeks. But enrollment is down at Watershed this year. The freshman class is only 14 students, about half of what the school anticipated.
"I think that we were overly optimistic," said Christina Beck, the school's interim administrator.
Beck said a smaller-than-expected enrollment means less money from the state. The school has 112 students, and would like to have 130. Watershed used to be a private school, but became a public charter school in 2002. Beck said the school also has to pay back some of the special education money it received from the state in the last couple of years.
"We made some mistakes with the amount of federal and state money that we were expecting to get for special ed and that we billed for, that we really need to pay back in this fiscal year," Beck said. "That was another big hit."
Beck said Watershed laid off its administrator and front desk staff, and launched a fundraising drive to raise $123,000 by the end of January. The school has been working closely with the state department of education to fix its problems. Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said Watershed is taking the right steps.
"This is an example where we've caught something and said, ok, let's come in here, let's help you, let's see if we can't get your little ship set aright, and so they're back on track and doing fine. They'll be fine," said Seagren.
Seagren said many charter schools are too optimistic about enrollment, and the early years can be a little rocky. But she's optimistic that Watershed will overcome its financial challenges.
Watershed students are doing their part to help the school meet its fundraising goal, organizing what one student called "one helluva bake sale". Students asked local rock bands to donate their time to play at an all-day benefit concert called Rock on Water, held at an Uptown restaurant. The Alarmists, White Light Riot, Chasing Elroy and other local bands were in the lineup.
Watershed senior Jade Gomez helped organize the concert. She said the bands she contacted weren't familiar with Watershed, but were willing to do their part for an arts school.
"They just see children struggling and wanting to succeed, and they know that path, and they want to help," said Gomez.
Gomez wants to become a math teacher after she graduates. She thinks if Watershed can get over its financial problems, it will emerge a much stronger school for students like her. The rock concert raised about $4600, not nearly enough to erase Watershed's deficit. But it does show the creativity of the school's students when confronted with a problem.
- Morning Edition, 01/18/2007, 7:25 a.m.