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Experimental Minneapolis Middle School Advances

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The Minneapolis board of education has unanimously approved a plan for an innovative new middle school that combines academics with real-life experiences.

The experimental venture, to be known as the Chiron School, could open as early as next fall, serving 120 5th- and 6th-grade students from schools throughout the city.

The idea for the school was advanced last year during an unusual competition sponsored by a group of local business leaders, parents, and educators. The group offered up to $6,000 for the best proposal for putting reform theories into practice.

Initially funded, in part, through $200,000 in private donations, the year-round school would have no fixed site; students would attend classes for nine weeks at a time at locations throughout the community, including a hospital, a zoo, government offices, and local businesses.

In addition, there would be no formal grade structure. Students would progress at their own rates within "multi-age learning teams."

Chiron teachers would also be required to prepare individualized education plans for every student--much as teachers in special education do. And students would be assigned to the same teacher over several years.

The school would initially be managed by a steering committee made up of members of the group that sponsored the competition and helped develop the proposal. Over time, committee membership would pass to teachers and parents.

Concerns about that governing mechanism--how it would work, and who would ultimately be accountable for the school--caused some members of the board of educa8tion to express wariness about the plan this month.

To allay those concerns, the board attached conditions to the plan before granting it final approval on April 11. They include: the appointment of a school-board member to the Chiron steering committee; quarterly reviews of the school's budget; and a directive that committee members follow school-board policies.

The new conditions were accepted last week by the school's steering committee.

"A lot of people--both local people and people in the legislature--are watching what we're doing very carefully," said Ray Harris, the Minneapolis real-estate developer who spearheaded the effort.

"We think it'll be a marvelous opportunity to show that there may be better ways to do things in education," he said.--dv

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