Charter school renewed

The Storm Lake School Board and administration breathed a sigh of relief last week when the Iowa Board of Education renewed for another four years our unique charter school. The state essentially indicated that it is amenable to local solutions that do not necessarily follow the dominant education matrix employed for more than a century.

Storm Lake, infused with immigrants from around the globe, realized long ago that its students needed more time in a structured environment to help them succeed on their own. It takes longer for some students to master English, or to use their new-found language skills to master other academic areas. The charter school helps answer the concern: Students attend Storm Lake High School for five years instead of four and get their first year of college or vo-tech school under their belts at no additional cost. Many of the 500 students who have matriculated through the charter school would not have attended college or vo-tech school without the charter school.

The result is that students are moving on to vocational degrees through Iowa Central Community College. Storm Lake Schools Supt. Carl Turner notes that Iowa Central prepares young men and women for the jobs available within 40 miles of Storm Lake. Many first-generation immigrants want to take jobs close to the family who got them here. Technical skills may work better for most of these students than a four-year degree. Turner himself wishes he had taken a few plumbing courses instead of oddball education courses in graduate school.

Storm Lake is only one of three charter schools in the state. Ours grew out of the old League of Schools, a consortium of local school districts that came together to offer first-rate vo-tech courses to high school students in Storm Lake. It led naturally into the venture among Storm Lake, Iowa Central and Buena Vista University.

The idea of a five-year or six-year high school is coming into vogue. Time Magazine featured the concept in January. It helps prevent dropouts, shows students that they can have a good job with technical education, and leads other students to explore college further once they have their sea legs.

That’s the basic message the state board heard from the Storm Lake delegation last week.

Letters from local employers in praise of the charter school were the key to showing the state board that the program works.

Students themselves testified how it helped vault them forward.

What works in Des Moines or Burlington or Sheldon might not work in Storm Lake. But what works well here might be a model for Midwestern communities struggling with influxes of newcomers — places like Denison, Worthington, Minn., or Marshalltown. The charter school is helping build better citizens climbing the economic ladder. With all the talk of income inequality, the greatest leveler of all is education.

Because Storm Lake is trying to hard to help new Americans, colleges are reaching out. Buena Vista University is enrolling more students of color, many of them from Storm Lake, every year. The University of Iowa has created a “Storm Lake Scholars” program offering up to 10 full-ride scholarships to first-generation students. We spotted Iowa Central Center Director Dan Anderson chatting up the charter school at lunch last week with an admissions executive from the University of Northern Iowa.

The charter school is an important component of Storm Lake succeeding and growing as a community. We’re glad the state recognizes that prosperity comes in varied colors down different paths. We’re charting the right course.

It’s just that easy

The sales pitch might have worked. A forthcoming graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, who hails from Chicago, has a job offer in Storm Lake. Her other choices were another small town in Iowa and one in northern California. She visited The City Beautiful on Sunday and stopped by for a chat. We didn’t wait for her to ask about our hometown, we just started in on the pitch:

“You are interested in a diverse population. This is the most diverse city in the Upper Midwest, bar none. You have a working knowledge of Spanish, and you want to become fluent. This is the place.

“We have the best ethnic restaurants in a three-state area. You can go Thai, Lao, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Tex-Mex, traditional Mexican or Americana.

“This is one of the cheapest places to live in the USA. You can buy a palace in a small town for the price of a new car. If you live downtown, you can get a great deal on rent and never have to drive a car. Your insurance rates will be appreciably lower.

“The lake sets the tone for the community. When you see it, you relax. That sort of sets the pace in Storm Lake. There is no rat-race. Buena Vista University is loaded with cultural events.

“We were born here, left and decided to come back as adults. So we hope you move here.”

She said she would.

It was an easy sell.