North Minneapolis charter school Sankofa Underground North Academy shut down this month, leaving students and teachers scrambling for other options before the school year starts in a few weeks.
The school, which goes by S.U.N. Academy, had leadership turnover and financial problems, said Molly McGraw Healy of the University of St. Thomas Charter Authorizing Program, which oversaw the school. The school board voted to close the school on July 10, after St. Thomas gave notice that it would end its contract with S.U.N.
St. Thomas authorizes 11 other metro-area charter schools, including the high-performing Twin Cities German Immersion School and Hiawatha Academies. State law requires that charters have an authorizer to oversee school management and operations. Never before has a school in its portfolio shut down after one year, McGraw Healy said.
“In the end, you have to have the skill sets to manage all of the different systems, and you really don’t have a lot of time for second chances,” she said.
The school is letting families know about the closure, McGraw Healy said, and teachers will have to find other jobs.
Not every teacher was planning to stay or had a contract renewed, said Marika Pfefferkorn, who served as the school board’s chairwoman. They won’t get severance, she said.
“Teachers that were interested in staying in education are and will be provided support for an alternate placement,” Pfefferkorn said.
The school will provide information about other charter schools in the area so that students can go somewhere else together, she added.
S.U.N.’s application was one of the best McGraw Healy had ever seen, she said, and she had high hopes for the school.
S.U.N. had touted its “African-centered” approach on its website, adding that kids are “being underserved by current educational options.” The school aimed to erase the achievement gap between white and minority kids, according to its website, and it had a goal to educate roughly 500 students spanning kindergarten through eighth grade by 2023. Students had support and one-on-one attention there, Pfefferkorn said.
The school started advertising for the 2016-17 school year in 2015. In May 2016, the board voted to put S.U.N. Academy in the North Community YMCA for the 2016-17 school year, according to the school’s Facebook page. School started Aug. 22.
But the enrollment goals didn’t deliver when the doors opened. The school could have functioned “pretty well” with 85 students, Pfefferkorn said. But just 47 students attended last year, according to the Oct. 1 enrollment number from the Minnesota Department of Education.
Adding to the financial problems was a lack of school leadership experience among its management, McGraw Healy said. School founder AsaleSol Young had been an educator but had never run a school. Young said that when the school ran into financial troubles, “it just was more than I felt capable to handle.”
Young stepped down in October, and Marcellus Davis took over as interim school leader. In May, St. Thomas sent notice of its plan to end its contract with the school. In advance of a hearing in July, the board voted to close.
The board knew the school hadn’t met its enrollment expectations and didn’t want to send kids into an unpredictable school experience, Pfefferkorn said. She added that unlike start-up businesses, new schools don’t have time to figure it out because children are in the mix.
“We don’t consider this a failure but one step on a journey to get education right for our students on the North Side,” she said.