Anoka’s Cygnus Academy charter school closing

Anoka’s charter school Cygnus Academy will not reopen for classes in the fall.

by Mandy Moran Froemming
Union Editor

Anoka’s charter school Cygnus Academy will not reopen for classes in the fall.

The school, which opened in 2005, had its charter school license revoked after it lost its authorizer during the past school year.

According to School Board Chairman John Christoffel, Cygnus Academy was notified its authorizer, non-profit Friends of Education, was opting to end its relationship with the school.

Christoffel said Friends of Education and the Cygnus board were at odds over teaching methods used to improve state testing scores.

The school, based in Anoka, was home to 110 fifth- through eighth-grade students.

“It was an environment where it was very safe to learn,” said Christoffel. “There was a lot of involvement with the families.”

Typically, Cygnus students were those who did not fit the mold in traditional public schools, he said. The academy was going through a rebuilding year, after losing a large graduating class – 53 eighth-graders – in 2009.

Despite Friends of Education’s decision not to renew the contract, Cygnus Academy had no intention of closing.

According to Christoffel, the school was looking to find a new authorizer. But because it failed to follow proper procedure with the Minnesota Department of Education, that was not allowed to happen.

“We were ignorant of the laws,” said Christoffel.

The school was not aware it had to file a letter within 15 days of receiving notice from its authorizer that the Friends of Education no longer wanted to continue its relationship with Cygnus Academy, he said.

The board was working with a potential new authorizer that supported “our plan for raising test scores without teaching to the test,” said Christoffel.

According to an announcement made by Friends of Education this spring, it was opting not to renew the charter contract for Cygnus Academy for failure to meet academic achievement requirements.

“As an authorizer, we have an obligation to ensure that each charter school is fulfilling its statutory mandate to improve student achievement,” said Elizabeth Topoluk, director of charter schools for Friends of Education, in a statement.

Friends of Education as an authorizer, is responsible for monitoring the board’s oversight of the school. The non-profit authorizes an additional 17 Minnesota charter schools. Charter schools in Minnesota are funded publicly through the Department of Education.

Christoffel said teaching a curriculum specifically designed to improve test scores ignores other important aspects of education.

According to statistics released by the Minnesota Department of Education just last month, Cygnus Academy’s scores in math and reading are below the state average in proficiency.

At Cygnus, 56.73 percent of the students are proficient in math, compared with a state average of 65.89 percent. In reading, for the 2009-2010 school year, 67.61 percent of the students are proficient, compared with 72.34 percent statewide.

But those scores were improved over the previous year, when 58.11 percent of students were proficient in reading, compared with a state average of 71.91 percent. In math, 39.65 percent of Cygnus students last year were proficient, scoring low against the statewide average of 63.85 percent. Science results from 2008-2009 showed 28.84 percent proficiency at Cygnus, compared with 45.75 percent at the state level.

In results released just this week, Cygnus showed marked improvement, with 46.66 percent of students testing proficient in science, compared with a state average of 48.58 percent.

Friends of Education had already informed Cygnus Academy it would not longer be authorizing the school before the most recent round of test results were released.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at editor.anokaunion@ecm-inc.com

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