From the Superintendent

Welcome to the second edition of the 2019-2020 MTCS Newsletter and Happy New Year to all!  I sincerely wish each and every member of our MTCS community the very best throughout 2020 and beyond.  As for many, the start of a new year is cause for one to reflect. Whether a New Year’s resolution, a look at the past, or a simple “where did the time go?”, a moment to pause, reflect, and take a breath can be refreshing.  In contrast, the start of a new year can also cause a heightened sense of urgency and/or be anxiety provoking in thinking about all that is to come.

Understandably, uncertainty and change can lead to feeling uneasy and, at times, outright uncomfortable.  Even in the education profession, where students are challenged to learn and grow beyond their comfort zone, daily, if not each and every class period, adults may often find themselves feeling uneasy with being challenged to grow beyond their comfort zone.  However, such challenges are the very reasons why individuals continuously learn, grow and develop.

Think about a personal and/or professional challenge you, or someone you know, has been presented with and what the outcome was.  Upon reflection, think about the possible feelings of self-doubt and the thought of defeat. What are the attributes that were helpful in overcoming such challenges?  Attributes such as perseverance, self-determination, grit, and more may come to mind. Also, although challenges may lead to a whole host of emotions ranging from anger, think of “why is this happening to me?” to sheer elation, think of “I am so lucky that this happened to me!”, it is the very challenge and, more so, how the individual was able to overcome the challenge, that resulted in personal and/or professional growth.  Because of such attributes as perseverance, self-determination, grit, and more, humans have overcome challenges throughout history and we have the potential to overcome challenges today as well as into the future.

In thinking about 2020 and those we serve throughout MTCS, we have current challenges as well as challenges to come.  With that, we will all, no matter our role, age, financial status, academic, athletic, social-emotional abilities, and more be confronted with a wide array of very human emotions and experiences.  With that, I encourage each and every individual to lean upon such attributes as those mentioned previously. Believe in your personal strength and value as a complex human-being who is so very capable of overcoming challenges, no matter how seemingly trivial or utterly overwhelming, and rest assured that you are not alone.

Throughout our MTCS community, no one is alone, nor does anyone need to tackle challenges alone.  Because of the very strength that each individual entails, as well as the insurmountable, collective strength of the group, we can turn to each other,  persevere together and overcome current challenges as well as the challenges to come. Personally and/or professionally, as the MTCS community, we got this.

Onward with 2020…

At MTCS we always have a sense of urgency.  Each and every day matters because our MTCS students deserve the very best, academically, socially, emotionally, as well as all the support they can get in overcoming life’s challenges.  The continuous challenge to our MTCS community is to courageously collaborate, innovate, and to listen to the voices of the communities we serve as a means of meeting the unique needs of each and every child.

As our MTCS community welcomes 2020, know that staff and faculty are focused on the very students enrolled in MTCS programs each and every day.  No matter the daily challenges we as individuals are faced with, nor the daily challenges we, as a society, are exposed to via mass media, our MTCS continues to come together, students, families,  community members, staff and faculty, working together to overcome challenges, learn, develop and grow. Also important to note is that students and families choose to come to MTCS. Unlike traditional public schools, MTCS, as a public charter school, enrolls students based upon choice rather than assigned boundaries.

One of the challenges faced by the charter school community, and often played out in the media, is the idea that charters are “siphoning or stealing” students from traditional school districts.  This notion could not be further from the truth. The fact, and not to be misconstrued as a criticism, is that traditional public schools are not meeting the needs of all students. It’s no secret.  Traditional public schools understandably have their challenges, but to say that certain challenges exist because of public charter schools, is not accurate.  Public charter schools, such as MTCS, are frequently misunderstood because of lack of information and/or misperceptions.  The best way for us to make a difference is to inform and advocate for MTCS, a public charter school. In thinking about this, please note the following letter/email I will be sending to legislators:

Dear Senator/Representative:

As the superintendent of Minnesota Transitions Charter School (MTCS), I am writing in request of your support and advocacy for all children enrolled in public schools throughout the state of Minnesota, including those enrolled in public charter schools.

Minnesota Transitions Charter School is currently the largest public charter school in Minnesota serving over 3600 students in grades K through 12 via 9 programs throughout 7 sites.  Through our online learning programs, we serve over 2900 K-12 students across the entire state of Minnesota. Our seat based programs, serving over 700 K-12 students, are comprised of the nation’s oldest sober/recovery high school programs, P.E.A.S.E. Academy, General Colin L. Powell Leadership Academy, a secondary program with a focus on the arts, blended learning opportunities, and 3 elementary programs serving diverse demographics.  Within the MTCS seat based programs we serve over 90% students of color, over 16% of students receiving special education services, and over 90% of students receive free or reduced lunch.

Understandably, throughout Minnesota there continues to be a sense of urgency to serve students well academically, socially, and emotionally.  The stakes are high as we are making investments in our children so they may engage in fulfilling lives as leaders and stewards of the communities we share.  More so, in the complex and ever changing world we live in, we must remain steadfast in our resolve to honor the students and families we serve by hearing their voices and continuously work to provide innovative educational opportunities to meet the plethora of diverse needs at hand.

The broad intent of the public school system is to help children fulfill their diverse potentials.  In looking at educational data throughout the state of Minnesota, we know that disparities exist both academically, such as the achievement gap, as well as with discipline practices, such as disproportionality with discipline practices.  In short, the reality is that the traditional public school system is not meeting the needs of all students. This is not a criticism, rather a reality that may only be better addressed through collaborative and innovative efforts that honor the voices of the communities living throughout Minnesota.  Public charter schools, such as Minnesota Transitions Charter School, continuously work to collaborate and be innovative. Such efforts are a means of better serving students and families who choose to come to us because of the diverse needs they are looking to have addressed.

I respectfully ask for your support and advocacy of all public schools, including public charter schools, on behalf of the 3600+ students enrolled via Minnesota Transitions Charter School, as well as all 57,000 students currently served among the 164 Minnesota public charter schools.  Public charter schools, such as MTCS, do abide by all state and federal laws, provide parents a choice where their child will attend school, and public charter schools are underfunded when compared to traditional public schools. Parents make the choice to attend public charter schools because they want a voice in what is best for their child.  Public charter schools offer choice and opportunity for all families and all students. Efforts to minimize and/or eliminate such choice will only serve to further oppress the underserved and disenfranchised students and families throughout Minnesota. All students and families deserve the best public education possible, including students and families making the choice to attend public charter schools.

Thank you for your consideration of all public schools, both traditional public schools as well as public charter schools, throughout Minnesota.  Please feel free to contact me for further discussion, information, or other as desired. Also know that you are welcome to visit Minnesota Transitions Charter School, anytime, at your convenience.  I can be reached via email at berlandson@emailmtcs.org and or phone at 612-722-9013.

Respectfully,
Brian Erlandson

Please consider contacting your Senator and/or Representative via email, a letter, telephone call, or other.  Let them know about MTCS, the work we do, and that we are a public charter school continuously working to meet the needs of a diverse body of students throughout Minnesota.  Please know that I will be addressing each letter with the title and name of a specific legislator. Also, I will send an additional version to my local officials as a constituent.  Whether a student, parent, educator, or other, your voice matters. Please consider advocating for MTCS as a public charter school. In doing so, we can each have a voice that sends a collective message regarding the important work taking place at MTCS and public charter schools as a whole.  The following link serves as a resource of legislators representing specific areas:

Who represents me?

https://www.gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts/ 

As an individual actively engaged in the MTCS community, your continuous efforts, support, and ongoing advocacy makes a difference.  There is no doubt that change will come with 2020 and beyond. The remainder of the 2019-2020 school year brings the current challenges of today as well as planning for the future of MTCS and how we may continuously better meet the diverse needs of the students we so value.  Thank you for your continued efforts and support of our MTCS community and all the best to you in 2020 and always.

With appreciation,

Brian Erlandson
MTCS Superintendent

There are a lot of exciting new activities and sports this year in the MTCS school district.

We have just added wrestling this year and we would like to welcome the new wrestling coach  Shamarke Hashi to the coaching staff at MTS Secondary. Wrestling has joined the rest of High School Sports which include Boys Varsity basketball,Girls Varsity Basketball High School Volleyball, High School Soccer, and High School Baseball.

MTS secondary has also added podcasting to its list of fun activities this school year. We have high school students who have produced a Podcast for the school district and the general public to hear. One high school Podcast is called The Girl Talk Podcast where high school students talk about issues that affect teens and the modern day youth. Next we have The MBK podcast or The My brothers keepers Podcast where high school students talk about current events, sports and entertainment. Last but not least we have THE BIG PODCAST  where the superintendent teams up with a student to host and interview staff , students and parents about various topics while shedding light on the latest happenings and goings on around the MTCS school district. MTCS has also added Esports to the district activities. Esports is in its second year at MTCS. Esports is a gaming competition where students from different schools compete online against each other while playing popular gaming titles. MTCS has also expanded Soccer this year to the middle school students with our middle school soccer program that takes place after school at our Banaadir South Middle School.

Banaadir North has begun its winter basketball season where they compete against other schools and park board teams. MTS secondary has added the Deca business club and Homework help to the after school programs this year. Students who need extra help and tutoring attend homework help after school which is headed up by staff member Mike Gharrity. The Deca Business is a club where students are in charge of running and managing the school store during school hours and then they compete in Deca business competitions against other schools where they participate in marketing,management and entrepreneurship activities and opportunities.   MTS Secondary also has Digital Music beat club where students can learn how to write,produce and perform their own music. MTS elementary has also added some new activities to the MTCS list of cool and fun happenings in the MTCS district.

MTS Elementary is currently offering acting for theater where students write scenes and work on monologues leading up to a performance for families and students. They also offer Art club where students discuss famous art and artists while making art and using a variety of art media. We also can’t forget to mention that MTS Elementary has hand sewing where students learn the basics of weaving, stitching and embroidery, a running club where students learn the proper form while running to improve overall health and fitness, the green club where students learn about conservation and sustainability, planting seeds and picking up trash around the community and we can’t forget about coding with robotics club where students learn how to create algorithms to program robots that they build themselves.

Not only does the MTCS district have after school programs, sports and clubs but they also have before school activities at the Banaadir Math and Science School. Students at Banaadir math & Science have the opportunity to participate in morning Intramural Sports. Students are bussed to Banaadir Math & Science early before school to participate in Intramural sports like basketball before school even starts in the mornings. MTCS has academics as well as sports and activities to provide our students with a well rounded and enriching experience that they will remember for years to come.

Equity is a term that is used in a variety of ways, in a variety of settings and can mean different things to different people. A focus of mine this year, is how do we elevate the voices and gifts of our educators, as well as our students. It is important that as we, as MTCS, strive to attend to ensuring equitable practices, that we collectively define what we mean when we talk about equity. I know what it means to me, but what does it mean to all of you?

In an attempt to answer this question, a survey will be sent to all staff in the next week. The survey includes various definitions of the term Equity, including definitions utilized by the MN Department of Education, as well as, less formal ones. Staff will be asked to select one statement or phrase that resonates with them and speaks to what they personally feel equity means. From that data, the Equity committee will choose or craft our MTCS definition of equity as our foundation moving forward.

My main focus thus far has been to build positive and meaningful relationships with students and staff. This means being present in our buildings, visiting classes, spontaneously connecting, learning, listening and witnessing the unique ways our educators make meaning of growth and progress. As I get to know people, I gain insight about the gifts our community brings and deepen my understanding on how to support access to what individuals need to thrive. This goes for our adults in addition to our students. Too often, adults are left out of the nurturing equation. I truly believe that if we genuinely take care of our educators, our children will have their needs met and everyone can engage in learning.

Finally, I’d like to share that I am also collaborating with the Minnesota Department of Education and the Bush Foundation to embark on a Learning Journey focused on student-centered learning. We are exploring instructional relevance, cultural relevance and future relevance and how we design our learning environments to allow for students to genuinely drive their own learning. Here at MTCS, we believe that we are all life-long learners and deeply value personal and professional growth. We understand that our students need to be able to see themselves in the futures we speak of and they need to be seen fully as who they are today. When we elevate and celebrate our commonalities and all of the beautiful ways in which we are different, we can create learning opportunities that are rooted in meeting children where they are at. We then help youth find meaning by drawing connections from the classroom to their lives and communities beyond our walls. When educators learn as much from our students as our students hopefully learn from us, we move towards more equitable education. This is something we will continue to work on, reflect on, adjust as needed, and evaluate from now until the end of time.

MTCS has implemented a researched based strategy throughout the district as the strategy that was determined by the Comprehensive Needs Assessment. A comprehensive needs assessment is looking at the data from all areas to determine what our students need in order to be successful. The data informed us that students needed to be taught the standards so that they were ready for the MCA Assessment. The goal being proficiency in reading and math.

We are halfway through the year and learning is abound. The MN Transitions Charter School (MTCS) Special Education Department offers robust programming and services provided by highly qualified professionals. We have over 30 fully licensed Special Education Teachers who provide services in a variety of disability areas. Our staff also includes over 20 highly skilled Special Education Paraprofessionals, who work every day to directly support students in their learning. Our team includes many related services providers, including a School Psychologist, a Speech/Language Pathologist, an Occupational Therapist, a Physical Therapist, a Deaf/Hard of Hearing Teacher, a School Nurse, an Audiologist, a Developmental/Adapted Physical Education Teacher, and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. All of our related service providers are licensed and bring with them immense experience when they work with our staff and students to ensure that each of the students are provided with comprehensive special education programming. Aside from all of those professionals, we also have a highly educated and knowledgeable Evaluation Team, who work tirelessly to ensure that families and staff have the best information possible to inform their decisions around students’ education. MTCS and our Special Education Department works to ensure that the most highly qualified individuals are hired into the district so that each student will be provided with the best quality programming possible to support their success at school and on their future path.

We are entering one of the most exciting chapters of Minnesota Transitions Charter School history. With plans to change a few programs, and add an innovative blend of a more flexible, and individualized program at the Secondary school, MTCS is truly listening to our students, families and staff, and creating and adapting programs to meet individual student needs. As we bring our revamped programs into the community, it is a chance to define, redefine and create ways to support students as they learn and prepare for the transition from school to work and life.

As we share the news with families and the community, I invite you to share your ideas with me. Is there something amazing that your school does that you want the community to know? Is there a staff member or student that is doing something you think everyone should know about? Do you have an idea for an event, a printed piece, a video, an interview … you name it … I would love to hear about it at jbuck@emailmtcs.org.

We are also creating a printed publication (and an online version) for us to share with people far and wide, to highlight the work we are doing at MTCS and how we are positively impacting the lives of students and families who choose an MTCS charter school. If you have ideas about features or facts that would have a positive impact on the perception of our programs, let me know.

And, 2020 marks the MTCS Twenty Fifth Anniversary—twenty-five years of supporting students in Minnesota! It will be a great year of celebration!

As a new MTCS community member I have immersed myself in as many of the various activities, events and committees presented to me and it has been an exciting and at times frustrating six months! Frustrating because I am not a patient person and expect to learn everything yesterday.

However, there is one element which I know much about and am excited to introduce and share with MTCS. The Latinas Unidas Network. The name says it all. “Latinas United Network” because we are stronger together as a community than we are as individuals.

This a group of dynamic women who represent many community organizations throughout the Twin Cities area. Besides what they do for their respective organizations, are the tragic hardships they suffered in their native countries.

For example, one woman saw her father killed in a drive by shooting in Venezuela, another was kidnapped and escaped a year later and another lived with her children in a shanty in Mexico. I could go on.

Many, if not all of us would falter in our resolve to move forward with our lives. These women emigrated to the United States, pursued informal and formal education and created new lives. Those lives consist of serving as a correction officer, social worker and President of the consulate board of directors.

And as cliche as it may sound, they live their lives with the goal of paying it forward by assisting the disenfranchised in our communities secure resources, emotional fortitude, passion and the motivation to be contributing members of our society and our country as a whole.

I can personally relate to many of the Latina’s in the group and know that having the Latina Women’s Network as part of the MTCS family we can elevate our families and in turn our students.

The Latina’s Unidas Network will be at the high school on March 12th from 10-12.

It has been a busy and productive fall at Minnesota Connections Academy (MNCA). We have hosted field trips throughout the state to meet online students and families. In November, MNCA hosted an induction ceremony to welcome a total of thirty-four new students to the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society and National Elementary Honor Society in recognition of their outstanding academic achievement and service to the community

The ceremony was held at our office in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over 125 students, family members and staff participants attended. Twenty-two MNCA students in grades 10 through 12 who were inducted into the National Honor Society. Six other Minnesota Connections Academy students were inducted into the National Junior Honor Society for students in grades 6 through 9 as well as six additional students who were inducted into the National Elementary Honor Society for students in grades 4 through 5. MNCA now has a total of fifty-three active NHS members.

“At Minnesota Connections Academy we have the opportunity to work with students and families from many different backgrounds who come to us seeking an academic setting where they can thrive,” said Melissa Gould, MNCA principal. “I congratulate these students for their persistence and for maintaining such a strong commitment to succeeding in the classroom and making a difference in the communities in which they live.”

The National Honor Society is a nationwide organization that recognizes students for achievement in four areas: scholarship, leadership, service and character. To qualify students must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.3 or higher, attended MNCA for at least one full semester, committed to attending meetings throughout the school year, and committed to completing 50 volunteer hours throughout the school year.

Banaadir Math & Science Update
Read the Banaadir South Update
Read the MTS Elementary Update
Read the P.E.A.S.E. Academy Update
Read the Banaadir North Update
Read the MNVS Update
Read the MTS Secondary Update