Global Academy moves to New Brighton


A lot of the curriculum at Global Academy, a new public charter school moving into the former United Theological Seminary space in New Brighton, is based around interdisciplinary themes, according to associate director Scott Flemming. For example, students might do a unit on “patterns” in science, geography and math. (courtesy Global Academy)

Public charter school Global Academy, serving roughly 425 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is moving into the former United Theological Seminary space in New Brighton in time for the coming school year. (Bridget Kranz photos)

Volunteers from the community joined employees from UnitedHealthcare in the rain on June 27 to help build Global Academy’s new playground. The event was part of the insurer’s employee volunteer initiative, done in partnership with nonprofit KaBOOM!, whose mission is to facilitate active lifestyles in youth. The school hopes that the new structure will benefit the neighborhood and that residents will use it, as well as students.

Public charter school gearing up for the fall in its new location

The sound of children’s laughter will soon fill the air in New Brighton, as public charter school Global Academy moves into the former United Theological Seminary space this fall. 

Serving approximately 425 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the school decided it was time to relocate from its 33,000 square foot location in a strip mall in Columbia Heights. 

It closed on the new property last summer, spending roughly $11 million on the purchase and renovation of the site, located at 3000 5th St. NW. The new location is exactly two miles from the school’s original space. 

“We’ve been in a strip mall for 11 years,” said director and founder Helen Fisk, who started in the Columbia Heights space in 2008. “We really think the kids deserve to be in a beautiful space where they have green space to play and a nice playground and classrooms with windows.”

At neighborhood meetings, many residents had questions about the nature of the school. As a public charter, Global Academy can accept students from anywhere in the metro, but funding still comes from the state and is determined by its enrollment. Instead of having a district to report to, it has an authorizer, which in this case is the University of St. Thomas.

“We have to do the same testing, we’re subject to the same accountability standards,” said Scott Flemming, the school’s associate director, in an interview. “Ultimately, the Department of Education audits us the same way they audit every other school district.”

Some neighbors also expressed concerns about increased traffic and wanted to see the architectural integrity of the space maintained. The school plans to keep Bigelow Chapel as is, transforming it into a hall and meeting space for students.

As far as traffic, Fisk says there hopefully won’t be too big of an impact due to the fact that it isn’t a high school and many of the students take the school bus. Noise had also been brought up as a concern at past city meetings; the playground is surrounded largely by green space behind the seminary, bordering homes along Yankton College Lane on its eastern boundary.  

Residents will see for themselves later this summer; everything is currently on track for the school to open in its new space on Aug. 29.

 

A different kind of school

The United Theological Seminary started looking to rent out part of its space in 2017, due in part to declining on-campus enrollment. When Global Academy offered to buy the entire property, UTS agreed to sell and downsized to an office in St. Paul.

Because charter schools cannot own property, Global Academy set up an affiliated building company that is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and took out a loan to finance the move.

“We were able to borrow money because of the good success the school has had,” said Flemming. “The 1,000 kids on the waiting list said, ‘we’re going to continue to generate money from the state.’”

In addition to getting regular funding from the state for each student, Global Academy also qualifies for enrollment-based, state-funded lease aid, as a charter school. 

“Every year, we generate the lease aid and the general operating revenue and we pay down the debt of the building to the affiliated building company,” explained Flemming.

When deciding to sell the majority of its New Brighton campus, UTS was swayed in part by the school’s philosophy. “We were looking at not only the offer from them, but the mission alignment,” said Amee McDonald, UTS’s vice president for marketing. 

 

Centering immigrant families

The majority of Global Academy’s students are recent immigrants, according to Flemming, who are drawn to the school by its International Baccalaureate curriculum and English Language Learning program.

Flemming says the school also makes an effort to center its immigrant families, the majority of whom are observant Muslims; Arabic is its world language and the school takes time off for Muslim holidays. 

Fisk founded Global Academy in 2008, after leaving her job as principal of Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights. Prior to that position, she’d been a teacher and principal at St. Paul Academy and Mounds Park Academy, respectively. 

She had also worked at the Twin Cities International Elementary School, a charter school that gave Fisk experience working with the area’s East African immigrant population.

Global Academy is an authorized International Baccalaureate school, with interdisciplinary curriculum based around themes like “how we organize ourselves,” “where we are in place and time” and “sharing the planet.”

“International Baccalaureate looks at [our students’] multinational, often multilingual, backgrounds as assets that we build from and not liabilities that we try to erase,” said Flemming.

According to Flemming, 90% of Global Academy’s kindergarten students qualify for ELL classes. By sixth grade, only 10% of students are still in those classes. “We exit students from ELL services twice as fast as the state average,” he said. 

The Star Tribune has consistently recognized Global Academy as a charter school that is “beating the odds.” This means that its students’ reading and math scores on standardized tests were significantly higher than expected, based on the school’s poverty rate, according to the paper’s analysis of data from the Minnesota Department of Education.

 

Moving forward

Global Academy’s success has led to a 1,000-person waiting list, according to Flemming, but the school plans to remain at its current size. 

“Most of the research suggests that about 450 students is a really, really good size for a K-8 school. Everybody knows your name and your family and who you are,” he said. Due to the waiting list, Flemming doesn’t expect much of an impact on the Mounds View Public Schools, noting that only five to 10 students come off the list every year. 

He also said that there are no plans to expand into a high school, although Fisk has mentioned in the past that they would like to add a pre-K program as an initial expansion in the new space.

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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