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State approves new Nary charter school

Nary School is being considered as the location for a new charter school. (Jordan Shearer/Bemidji Pioneer)

A planned Bemidji-area charter school is another step closer to opening.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Education approved an affidavit for the Aurora Waasakone Community of Learners, a hoped-for K-8 charter school that aims to take over an old school building about 10 miles south of Bemidji in Hubbard County.

The new school would have about 90 students — 10 per grade — when "fully enrolled" and a six-person board that includes founders Shanna Reiners and Anna Wallin, according to the affidavit. The charter would open Sept. 3, 2019, in the old Nary School on County Road 9, which is home to Helga Township offices, assorted music lessons, club meetings, and a wedding or two.

Next steps include hammering out an agreement with the township to use the old school building, another with Bemidji Area Schools for transportation, and getting a grant from the department of education to help get the charter off the ground.

The new school would be "authorized" by the Audubon Center of the North Woods, which means center staff would oversee and evaluate Aurora Waasakone's academic, operational and financial performance. Charter leaders like Reiners and Wallin already sought and received approval from the center.

"They actually approved us sooner than the allotted time because they were so excited about us," Reiners said. "They were really excited about our connections with the Native American community, they were excited about our school's look and take on environmental and sustainable education, which is a huge part of the Audubon Society."

(The center began as an offshoot of the Audubon Society decades ago, but is now an independent nonprofit with a similar name.)

The "Aurora" in the school's name is meant to evoke Northern Minnesota, Wallin and Reiners told the Pioneer last November, and "Waasakone" means "to shine, to glow, and to give off light" in Ojibwemowin. The school would emphasize "inquiry-based" learning, which means students there might tie individual lessons in science or language arts into a broader investigation of, say, Minnesota history.