Cosby to keynote charter schools conference

  • Article by: KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2012 - 7:39 PM

The annual National Charter Schools Conference in Minneapolis this week will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the nation's first charter school in St. Paul.

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Harvest Prep and Best Academy founder and Principal Eric Mahmoud is among those to be honored at the conference.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Thousands of teachers, administrators and policymakers will be in Minneapolis this week for the National Charter Schools Conference, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the nation's first charter school, St. Paul-based City Academy.

"We thought it would be perfect to return to the birthplace of the national charter school movement, said Ursula Wright, the interim chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Charter schools were started to foster innovative ways of learning and to be free from some of the regulatory shackles that bind traditional public schools.

Much of the conference will focus on whether schools are delivering innovation and performing as promised, Wright said.

"Not only is it critical for us to look back and assess the last 20 years but we also need to develop plans for the next 20 years," she said.

Nationally, charter enrollment topped 2 million students for the first time this school year, according to the group. It estimated a 12.5 percent growth in enrollment this year.

In Minnesota, charter enrollment grew by an average of 5.5 percent annually over the past two years. That's the lowest growth in more than a decade. It's still better than district-run schools, where statewide enrollment has slipped by 4 percent over the past five years.

Minnesota charter school leaders will play prominent roles in the conference, which features comedian Bill Cosby as a keynote speaker.

Two prominent local charter school advocates will be inducted into the Alliance's Hall of Fame, as will City Academy.

The inductees include: Eric Mahmoud, founder and chief executive officer of Harvest Preparatory School, Best Academy, Sister Academy and Seed Academy, and Jon Schroeder, founding director of the Charter Friends National Network and staffer to former Minnesota GOP Sen. Dave Durenberger. who played a major role in drafting and authorizing federal charter school legislation.

Mahmoud and other leaders of some of the state's top-performing charter schools are among the featured speakers.

"Now is the time to circle the wagons because we know what works now," said Eli Kramer, interim executive director of Hiawatha Leadership Academy. His school recently achieved the highest score among all Minnesota schools receiving federal poverty aid on a recent statewide school ranking. "It's time to replicate success and provide a quality education."

Ember Reichgott Junge, the state Senate sponsor of the 1991 legislation authorizing charter schools in Minnesota, will be promoting her newly published book, "Zero Chance of Passage, the Pioneering Charter School Story," which chronicles the local origins of the charter movement.

"I am in awe of the fact that 20 years later, 2 million students attend charter schools all over the country," she said. "Something is working."

Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469

  • CHARTER SCHOOLS CONFERENCE

    The 2012 National Charter Schools Conference will run Tuesday through Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

    • More than 4,000 people are expected to attend the conference sponsored by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

    • Keynote speakers: Bill Cosby and Deborah Kenny, founder of Harlem Village Academies.

    • Hall of Fame inductees include: Eric Mahmoud, of Harvest Preparatory School, Jon Schroeder, of the Charter Friends National Network, and Jim Griffin, of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

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