Town wins battle to reopen school after district shut it down

Students in the southeastern Minnesota town of Rollingstone have already learned an invaluable lesson before their local school reopens next year. Never give up, even when the powers that be close your school, sell off the building and insert a clause in the contract prohibiting it from being used as a school again.

Almost three years to the day that Winona Area Public Schools closed down Rollingstone’s elementary school, seemingly for good, a group of grassroots activists shared the good news with their neighbors on Facebook about reopening as a charter school.

We’ve been APPROVED! Thanks to all who have helped us get to this point. We look forward to the next steps in bringing back Rollingstone Community School!

The mayor, city council, parents and residents never accepted that outsiders on the Winona school board should be in a position to make such a consequential decision for their community. Their pride in the school never wavered.

Did you know, prior to closing in the spring 2018, RCS was a high achieving school that utilized a STEM model and experiential learning to achieve the states sixth highest reading scores!? The proposed school will utilize a similar model adding Art to become a STEAM model. We don’t mean to brag, but we’ve got some smarty pants alumni!

They immediately began planning a comeback, holding townhall meetings to galvanize support, buying back the building and encouraging involvement in a successful effort to turn over membership of the Winona school board.

Ultimately, the Winona Post noted, their efforts were as much about preserving the town as the school that anchors it.

J.R. Larkie has felt a buzz around Rollingstone since the state of Minnesota recently approved the opening of a charter elementary school in the town’s community school building. Students could be attending classes there as soon as fall 2022. The school will be housed at the former site of Rollingstone Elementary School, which Winona Area Public Schools closed in 2018. 

“The school in Rollingstone was kind of a hub. It was the heartbeat. When that got taken away, it hurt a lot of people,” Larkie, one of the new school’s organizers, said. “But we never gave up on that school. It’s taken three years to get it back to a school … And it’s taken a lot of hard work. But it’s been exciting the last few days, just being able to tell folks we’ve been approved.” 

But the work of starting a new charter school from scratch has just gotten underway. And they don’t feel a need to do things the way the educational establishment expects.

In a shift from the typical organization of schools, Rollingstone Community School may not necessarily have administrators, Larkie and Seppa said. Instead of a principal, there would be a lead teacher, Seppa said. The idea of having a teacher committee or more senior teachers leading has also been discussed, Larkie said. “We’re really hoping to do something kind of a little bit different than the norm, kind of thinking outside the box,” he said. “As we know, education and society as a whole is always changing. And we don’t want to just do something because that’s how it’s always been done.” He added, “If you give teachers a voice, they’re going to tell you what they need and what the kids need to be successful.” 

The Rollingstone Community School projects an initial enrollment of about 50 students, but expects more enrollees as word gets out about the high academic and civic expectations highlighted in their student pledge.

As a student of Rollingstone Community School, I promise to respect all people and all property. I will recognize the rights of others and know the difference between right and wrong. When I do this I will be a good citizen of my school, my community, and my country.