New charter school to open in North St. Paul

North Metro Flex Academy plans to open at 2350 Helen St. N., North St. Paul, for grades K-2 this fall. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
North Metro Flex Academy plans to open at 2350 Helen St. N., North St. Paul, for grades K-2 this fall. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)

While North St. Paul students entering grades K-2 this fall are busy selecting backpacks and folders with their favorite characters from the animated Disney film "Frozen," their parents will need to decide where to enroll them.

With a new charter school located at 2350 Helen Street North set to open for the 2015-2016 school year, up to 150 students may take part in the North Metro Flex Academy's inaugural year.

"We're thrilled to work in the city. We think it's a great place," Sue Furick, a spokeswoman for the school, said. "We're just hoping to be another option that provides something a little different for residents."

The City Council was scheduled to review Furick's request for a conditional use permit for the property at the April 21 council meeting. As stated in the application, the tuition-free charter school is seeking approval to serve grades K-8. The school anticipates 100-150 students will enroll in the first year. By the fifth year, enrollment numbers are projected to reach 500 students. The school is currently in the process of hiring a principal, and expects to employ 30 staff members.

Asked to describe the school's model, Furick said, "The school focuses on rigorous academics that use technology to help differentiate instruction for students of all ability levels."

As a charter school, North Metro Flex Academy is governed by an independent nonprofit board, currently comprised of five founding members. They applied for and were granted authorization through Novation Education Opportunities, as well as the Minnesota Department of Education.

From industry to classrooms

 The property at 2350 Helen Street North formerly housed the Aetrium IC test handler business,  which specializes in making equipment used to test electronic circuit boards. In 2014, the business — which started and thrived in North St. Paul — was acquired by Boston Semi Equipment and relocated from North St. Paul to the company's new, larger headquarters in Massachusetts. The company announced the move was completed as of March 5, 2015.

ATRM Holdings sold the handler business to Boston Semi Equipment and currently has two employees working at the North St. Paul building.

In a Nov. 2014 press release, Boston Semi Equipment's President and CEO Bryan Banish stated, "Having the handler business co-located with BSE corporate allows us to give it the proper focus as we provide the important investments required in manufacturing and product development."

According to Ramsey County tax records, the 5-acre property at 2350 Helen Street was built in 1995 and was valued for 2015 taxes at $2.4 million. The estimated 2015 commercial property tax would have been a little more than $100,000. Once converted to a non-profit charter school, the property will no longer contribute to the city's property tax base.

No one from the city could be reached for comment before the story went to press.

Home to several small schools

This won't be the first nonprofit charter school to plant roots in North St. Paul as of late. Lionsgate Academy's Achieving Independence and Maturity Program — a transition program that serves students with autism and other disabilities — held its open house at 2342 Helen St. N. this past November.

Furick said North Metro Flex Academy isn't seeking to compete with Lionsgate, as the two serve different student populations.

She said they anticipate the majority of their students will live within a 10-15 mile radius of the school. The initial enrollment period ends May 15.

The school, still in the process of selecting a principal, will hold informational sessions for the community later this spring.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

 

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