Academic Arts High School
About the Learning Program
Students at Academic Arts High School study environmental themes in their coursework throughout the school year. At AAHS, students are encouraged to explore and develop their individual skills and interests through projects aligned with state standards. Twenty-first century resources, including a new music production studio and chromebooks in all classrooms, allow students to develop projects limited only by their imagination and creativity.
Learning doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom. AAHS students have opportunities to try new things. Whether touring a local museum, contributing real scientific observations to a national database, making homemade pizza dough, or attending the annual trip to the Audubon Center, there is always something new to learn in fun and exciting ways.
School Spotlight: Academic Arts High School
Academic Arts High School is a tuition-free charter school serving grades 9–12. Located in West Saint Paul, Academic Arts brings together environmental education and project-based learning to empower students. Students learn about the world through exploration of their individual interests, by designing and completing projects that meet state academic standards.
Their mission: Learn by doing. Embrace your place in the world. Prepare for the future. And make friends along the way. Their vision: A generation of young people who can navigate the world with the awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to make a positive impact.
Q: How does being teacher-powered impact student success?
A: It allows us to adapt our learning program in real-time to meet the changing needs of students. It promotes increased staff buy-in since we are able to influence or control the variables that affect the learning environment. It allows us to develop and determine the best and most robust ways to measure student success.
We had concerns that parents and students would have issues with a school without a single director. This has not been the case. We don’t hear complaints about this from students or parents, we’ve had a waitlist for enrollment for the majority of the 2017-18 school year, and overall attendance has increased 2% over last year.
Q: Tell us a bit about your recent decision to transition from having director to a completely flat model. How did you all make that decision, and how did you prepare for this first year?
A: We had to ask ourselves, “what would be best for students?” Based on our funds, we had a choice: hire a director or hold onto our valued staff members by paying them what they are worth. We decided students would benefit more moving to a director-free, flat model.
The decision to make the transition took place over the course of three years. We decided on a flat model as a team at the end of the 2015-16 school year and had 2016-17 to get our feet wet and prepare for the change. As a team of professionals with different backgrounds, values, and roles in the school, we had various understandings, expectations, and motivations that we brought to the table.
We continue to confront difficult challenges with the transition. Being teacher-powered requires additional time and energy from each member on daily basis. We are learning how to make major decisions as a team that typically fall on a director or principal within a school.
Teacher-powered doesn’t equal “director-free” — it means all educators are true professionals. A true professional isn’t isolated in a classroom or office, responsible for only the small part of the school which they immediately oversee. Instead, true professionals, just like with doctors and lawyers, are accountable for the entire system of which they are a part.
Ultimately, being a teacher-powered school means that a group of educators is ready to step up to the plate and redefine what it means to be a professional in the field of education. There is not a single correct way to do this. A teacher-powered school can have a completely flat leadership model, a small set of lead teachers, a director, or anything in between. It is a big responsibility — but the students are worth it.