New Heights K-12: Calm, Structured, Individualized Instruction



Come Help Us Celebrate Our Fine School!

Last month, we received a nice congratulatory letter from the commissioner of education for the great state of Minnesota, Dr. Brenda Cassellius. In the letter, she commends the New Heights staff for “...the tremendous gains your school has made over the past year.” She further goes on to say, “I appreciate your tireless dedication to the students you serve. It takes focus and commitment to change systems and put strategies in place that yield the kind of results your school has shown, and you and your team have my sincere appreciation for your efforts.”

This letter is in response to the gains our teachers and students have made in closing the achievement gap. This achievement gap is what is said to exist between various demographic groups of students. In the case of New Heights, many of our students come from families who fall on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder; which has been proven to be a major factor in the overall level of education some students will reach. Some schools have forgotten these students, but New Heights is here to serve them.

New Heights works tirelessly to provide all students we enroll with the attention each needs in order to feel, and more importantly become, successful at school. The letter from the commissioner goes beyond our “in-house” beliefs that we are doing a great thing. Receiving praise from our state’s highest education authority serves as the recognition many have been waiting for that the quality of the program at New Heights School rivals anything our community and state has to offer. We know that the true benefits of attending New Heights go far beyond the pages of the books we use and lessons we teach, but in this case, I wanted to share this news with all of you that New Heights is still here and still supporting the children of the St. Croix Valley in ways both large and small.

We sincerely hope that if you are reading this post, you will be intrigued about the possibilities that potentially await your child should he or she enroll at New Heights School.  You are further encouraged to look us up at our and begin to explore the school and it programs. While no website can answer every question you may have, I am sure you will find the website to be informative, easy to navigate, and filled with valuable information to help you get a feel for New Heights School and all it has to offer. At a minimum, it is a nice place to start your exploration.

Thomas Kearney-Superintendent

School Consumerism and Student Migration

In this time of rapid social change, we are seeing a lot of students and families shopping around for the “right fit” when it comes to schools.  There is also a lot of different kinds of schools to choose from.  There are regular traditional schools and districts;  open enrollment, which means that you can apply to attend a school in a district you don’t live in, but only 15%  of a districts seats are set aside for open enrollment; there are charter schools in most states, which are generally smaller schools with a particular focus; Alternative Learning Centers, which are usually attached to traditional districts and offer a shorter school day with less structure than the traditional district schools; parochial schools, which are typically tuition-based schools with religion integrated into the daily routine; On-line schools or blended learning, which means part-time on-line and part-time in a brick and mortar location; and then, of course, home school, which shifts the responsibility completely to the parent.  I apologize if I missed something, but generally speaking, these are your choices. 

Growing up, I did not have access to all these choices; in fact, I didn’t really have a choice.  I went to the school I was assigned, which was based on my home address.  The only other option open to me was to attend a parochial school, and that was not really an option because my parents could not agree on just which sect of religion to raise me under, so it was off to the assigned public school for me.

Today, the primary reason we see people looking for a new school option is that the larger traditional district schools typically have more students in a class and there are some students who might benefit from having time to work more with the classroom teacher.   With so many students in each class, it is harder to get the help they want or need and they become frustrated.  At this point, it becomes a matter of perception.  The student and his or her parent perceive the school to be overcrowded and the teachers seem uncaring and don’t or won’t offer the help that is needed. In reality, that may or may not be true.

It would not be either fair or accurate for me to say that charters are better schools.  In fact, I don’t know much about most charters since they are located in more than 40 states and there is now more than 2 million children attending charter schools across the country.  But, I can say that, in general, charters are smaller schools that offer teachers more opportunities to work directly with the students in their classes to help prevent the students from falling through the academic cracks that lead to underperformance.  Because the public also sees charters as a chance to help students in smaller schools, some charters have a skewed population of students who were failing in other schools.  Logically, parents will see charters as a great opportunity to turn things around. That is one reason why some charters seem to be underperforming, when in reality, the charter school may be moving its students forward and closing the achievement gap at a faster rate than their traditional counterparts, but the students still have not reached the level the government expects them to and that makes the school look like it is underperforming.

Just as we see students enrolling because they seemed unsatisfied somewhere else, we also see students leave our schools for reasons that have nothing to do with the school itself.  Some students leave for more social opportunities while others leave for programs they feel they would like to participate in like sports or after school social clubs.  It has become a veritable pick and choose game that is causing schools everywhere difficulty in deciding what types of programs to offer and how to keep students enrolled in the school and not lose them to competing districts. Unfortunately, academics are not often the first reason students move to other schools.

I would offer the thought to parents that part of growing up includes learning to cope with less than perfect circumstances.  Some of the most valuable lessons we learn in school is how to communicate our needs to those we perceive are not meeting them.  This can include people at all levels in school, from the principal to teachers, from the coaches to the students, we should be talking with the people we are frustrated with and trying to resolve our issues before we pack up and move to another location.  If we support the value of packing up and moving every time our kids hit a bump in the road, our students will not develop the coping skills that they are certain to need as they move on to the adult realm, where relationships, careers, and jobs all have those similar frustrations waiting for them.

So, before becoming a consumer and assuming that a new school will automatically be a better one, do what you can to resolve the issues you perceive your child is encountering.  Try to work it out before moving on.  Chances are you will see very similar issues in the next school you choose and your child will soon realize that there are overworked teachers everywhere, just as there are bullies and cliques present in every school.  Isolating one’s self in a home school situation may not be the answer either, as your children will soon develop a pattern of getting up when they want and working when they want.  Part of the public school experience includes learning to deal with the frustrations of group dynamics so that they can cope with them as adults in the work force.  It is an essential and invaluable skill that should not be overlooked.

Be careful that your motivations for changing schools are truly valid before uprooting your child and beginning a pattern of searching for an academic utopia.  In my 20 years of public school service, I have not found one.

How Safe Are Our Schools?

In the wake of the recent school tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, parents, legislators, school teachers and officials, and the American public are desperately trying to find answers that might shed some light and help to make sense of the unthinkable event that took place on December 14, 2012.  At a minimum, people are hoping to put some new measures in place that could hopefully prevent this type of thing from happening again.  I have taken questions from several concerned parents about the safety record of our school, and the best I can do is reassure our families that New Heights School has an excellent safety record spanning 20 years and that our staff members make safety a priority over all else.  Here are a few things that we do to ensure that our students are safe and our staff members are as prepared as they can be should the unthinkable occur.

Each year, public schools are required by law to conduct several types of safety drills; including a minimum of 5 fire drills and 5 lockdown drills each year.  We also conduct a severe weather drill each spring, and we have school bus evacuation drills each fall.  Each of these drills begins by holding meetings with the teachers about how to lead the students to safety under various circumstances.  Additionally, the teachers and I spend time speaking with the students about the types of events that could possibly occur and what we would do as a school to respond to those types of events.  Next, we conduct a series of drills by explaining to the students exactly what needs to happen and how they should react and behave during the drill and also during a real emergency. The next several drills are generally conducted without warning; however, the lockdown drills are always prefaced with the phrase, “this is only a drill.”  The lockdown drills tend to have a more eerie feeling and we do not want our students to be frightened by them.  After the drills are completed, we assess the results of the drills and talk about the elements that we feel are missing and make adjustments as needed.

New Heights School is a very small school with approximately 140 students attending each day.  Because it is so small, it is fair to say that most everyone at school knows most everyone else.  The staff members know all of the students by both face and name, so it is very easy to recognize when an unknown person enters the building.  Our school even has a strict clothing guideline for both students and staff, so it is very easy to see when a visitor is in the building simply by the way they are dressed. 

We also know the routine visitors to our school such as parents of our students; our postal workers; UPS and Fed Ex drivers; IT staff; and other routine visitors that may have to enter our building from time-to-time.  Routine visitors know the protocol of signing in.  All other visitors are required to enter the building through the main, front entrance, as all other doors are locked.  The main stairway leads directly to the main office.  On the rare occasion someone entering the building attempts to bypass the main office, at least one if not several staff members promptly investigate the matter and assist the visitor by escorting them directly to main office so that they can appropriately conduct the business they have with the school. This diligence on the part of the staff has contributed to the excellent safety record of the school.  

As our nation moves forward, we will remember events like Sandy Hook knowing that from time-to-time, people will commit unspeakable acts against others for no justifiable reason at all.  We may never fully understand why these things happen, but we will continue to do our best to be prepared to protect our students, staff members and families from ever having to experience such things. So, when asked, “Are our schools safe?”  My answer is “Yes, I believe they are.  They are as safe as they can be given the times.”

Choosing a Charter School:How do I Know Which One?

Traditional school districts, also known as resident districts, often have several schools under one jurisdiction, but each of the schools in a district can have a very distinct feel.  This can be a result of a particular leadership style of the school principal, or it might be a result of the neighborhood and type of families predominantly served by the particular school; we call that feeling the school “culture.”  Either way, traditional district schools will typically have many students with various needs all competing for the finite resources available within the school or district.  This type of structure leaves many feeling that they just don’t fit or have an identity in the public school system they are assigned to.

Charter schools differ in that all students attending charter schools have selected the charter school as an alternative to the school they are assigned to within the district they live in.  District schools hold the highest level of obligation to the residents of its district to appropriately plan for and meet the needs of virtually all students within their boundaries, whether or not they ever attend a district school.  Charter schools work in the reverse; the charter school directors find a niche that needs to be served within a community.  Next, they build a program and market that program to the select type of students the school intends to serve; usually a specialized niche.  So, whereas traditional districts generally are eclectic in nature by attempting/having to serve the needs of virtually all children living within district boundaries, charter schools determine who its population will be and serves only those families who select it based on it being a match for their child’s needs. 

Matching a school with your child’s needs occurs through a very in-depth investigation of the school you are interested in.  You should first conduct a general search of the schools in your geographic area.  You will want to narrow that search down to the schools that seem to have the services you feel your child needs; this will probably be just one or two.  This may be done initially through an internet search or gathering referrals from people who have had children in the schools you are interested in.  Next, you will want to schedule a visit with the director or principal of the charter school(s) you like.  There, you should get a fairly transparent look at the schools while in operation.  Most likely, the director will include relevant personnel at your meeting such as, special education teachers; guidance counselors; or other staff that may be part of your child’s education team.  Finally, you should ask for a tour.  If you do not get a “feel” for the school you are interested in, it will be hard to make a good informed decision about which school is right for your child.  Also remember, what works for one child may not work for another, even if the two children have similar issues or even if they share the same diagnosis of a learning disability.  That is particularly why students with learning disabilities have Individualized Learning Plans, or IEPs.  All students have particular and unique needs and respond to programs and services very differently.

The bottom line is if you are looking for a school, take your time and investigate thoroughly.  First, begin with an internet search or a referral from a friend or colleague.  Narrow your search to a few schools in your area and schedule an appointment to ask questions, have the school director or principal learn about your child’s needs, and don’t forget to ask for a tour to see the school in action.  Most charters will accommodate you.  Choosing a school is one of the most important things you can do as a parent.  Take your time and make a good choice based solely on your child’s individual needs and the school’s ability to serve them.

Thomas Kearney-Superintendent

What’s All The Fuss?


If you have ever wondered what all the hype is about charter schools, you are not alone.  The vast majority of children in the nation still attend regular public schools; and for good reason.  Traditional public schools still do an excellent job and are very appropriate for most kids.  The problem is, traditional public schools are not the best fit for ALL kids.  In 1991 the first charter school, City Academy, opened it doors in Saint Paul, Minnesota as an alternative to “traditional” schools available to kids in the area.  Things have changed, as most states in the country now have some sort of law allowing charter schools.  There are more than 2 million students currently attending charter schools across the nation, and Minnesota, the first state to offer charter schools as an option, has recently gone over the 40,000 student mark.  It is clear that charter schools are beyond being called a “movement.”

Charter schools are small community schools that get started because teachers, parents, community members, and other interested parties have determined that there is a niche to be served within a larger educational community.  Once these charters are granted by the local authority, usually the state government, the charter school spends some time planning and then it is off and running. 

Many feel charter schools are underperforming.  That is too broad of a statement to be true.  Depending on the schools in any particular study, some charter school test scores need improvement, and some are way ahead of the pack.  In order to really know how a school is performing, you would need to know what the exact population of the school is and how those students performed prior to entering the charter school.  It is also best to study the performance of students who have been at a charter school for at least 3 years to really know what the school’s impact has been.  I recommend you use caution when looking solely at test scores when shopping for schools. 

Generally speaking, charters all serve a local specialized population.  Each charter is different and unique in its own way so it is difficult to compare one to another. There are charters focused solely on the education of deaf students, while other charters may focus on the performing arts.  Many charters serve populations of students that once struggled in other traditional environments like poor students; minority students; or students who receive special services.  This population may be choosing charters because most charters are smaller schools that have a greater ability to focus on the individual student.  Also, charters have no students assigned to them.  All students enrolled in charter schools must choose the charter school.  The types of students shopping for charter schools range from students who have struggled in their more traditional school environments or who feel that they were not succeeding in their more traditional school environments for a variety of reasons to advanced students who feel the traditional school system is little more than an educational conveyor belt that has stifled their creativity and academic progress.  That means charter schools have to excel in customer service.  It has typically been the case that students who enroll in charter schools do better over time because they were able to find a school that more adequately meets their individual needs.  Check out the local charter schools in your area and I bet you will feel the difference!  Charter schools are here to stay.

Thank you for reading this week’s post.  There will be more valuable information for you to gain by returning to this blog site frequently.


Thomas Kearney-Superintendent

Inaugural Post

November 9, 2012

Welcome to this historic inaugural blog post for New Heights Charter School!  For those of you who might not know, New Heights School, located in Stillwater, Minnesota, is one of our nation’s first public charter schools; actually number 3 of approximately 6000 charter schools nation-wide.  New Heights opened its doors to students in September of 1993 as the first K-12 charter school in the nation.  We actually graduated the first student to ever attend a charter school from Kindergarten through graduation in 2006. 

New Heights is currently operating in its 20th year, but this post represents a brand new direction for us.  We are embarking on a mission of spreading the word about the amazing things that happen at New Heights School in a fresh, new way.  This new direction includes updates and improvements to our school’s website, located at; a newly created Facebook page, which will hopefully increase awareness and enthusiasm about our program; and this blog, which we hope will provide interested readers with the most up-to-date information about our school that can be found.  The way the world is communicating and gathering information is changing rapidly and New Heights is embracing these changes by becoming a more active participant in the world of social media. 

We hope that whether you are just passing by, or a potential frequent visitor to our information sites, that you will enjoy your visits and share our locations with others whom you feel may have an interest in the types of things New Heights School is engaged in.  We also hope to hear from you.  Please share your opinions with us so that we can know what other types of information might be valuable to you or other potential viewers.  We will do our very best to keep our sites current and inform you all of the unique and positive events occurring at the school. 

Thank you for taking time to read our inaugural blog post and we hope you will frequent this site!


Thomas Kearney-Superintendent

Welcome, reader!


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Welcome to the New Heights School blog! We are a K-12 charter school located in beautiful Stillwater, Minnesota. Our current student body is comprised of 114 students.

On our blog you will find up-to-date information about what’s happening at NHS. Also, check out the student and teacher spotlight sections to read about the featured staff member and student each month. In the “testimonials” tab you can read what students, parents, and community members think about our school. Finally, in the secondary and elementary sections you can keep current with our programs, events, and activities.

Thanks for visiting! Come back soon!