What does “charter school” mean? | Northwest Passage High School

confused about charter school
  • Charter schools are independent educational institutions outside traditional school district oversight
  • Different charter schools focus on different things, such as dual-language, project-based, or Montessori
  • Northwest Passage High School offers inquiry-driven, project based learning as well as experiential learning through expeditions

By far one of the most frequently asked questions by perspective parents and students is what exactly is a charter school?

What’s water?

You’ve probably heard the David Foster Wallace quote about the fish, and the water. I won’t spend too much time rehashing it. For us, identifying what makes us a charter school is difficult. We see Northwest Passage as a high school, not necessarily a “charter high school.”

That’s not to say we don’t think we’re different from your local big-box schools. It’s just that we tend to focus on what we do and not necessarily on what they don’t.

How does the state define charter school?

Each state has different laws and regulations that dictate what charter schools can and can’t be. In Minnesota, unlike other states, charter schools are tuition‐free, independent public schools that are open to and welcoming to all students. That means that regardless of ability or need, we are open to everyone. We are governed and operated jointly by licensed teachers, parents and community members.

Are all charter schools the same?

Northwest Passage High School is a single entity. We do not have a sister school, or a feeder program. There are schools around the state that we partner with from time to time on initiatives or programs. Much like snowflakes, no two charters are the same. As we say around here, “If you have seen one charter school, you have seen one charter school.”

What does Northwest Passage High School specialize in?

At our core, we focus on student growth through project and problem based learning. This means, as advisors and educators, we guide students to find solutions to problems. Then students set off to research topics that have personal connections or impact them.  Finally students create projects that display their understanding, raise awareness and have meaning. This is the project process. 

We want students to understand that while outcomes and creation are great outputs, it’s the process where the real learning takes place. Within this specialization, students are still required to meet the state required graduation standards. In our Headwaters program, we introduce this concept to new students to set them up for success in the project process.

In order to graduate from Northwest Passage, students must earn the following credits:

  • 4 English; 
  • 3.5 Social Studies; 
  • 3 Math;
  • 3 Science; 
  • 1 Art; 
  • 0.5 PE
  • 6.5 Elective

What about these trips I hear about?

Northwest Passage offers students the opportunity to go on Expeditions to locations around the country and occasionally around the world. During expeditions, students have the opportunity to participate in experiential learning situations that take them out of the classroom. 

Hike, Portage, Canoe at NWPHS

From kayaking in the boundary waters, to hiking in national parks, students develop skills that go beyond just basic reading, writing and arithmetic. If nature isn’t your or your learner’s thing, we also offer more urban expeditions like a weekend in Chicago taking in improv at Second City, or a week in Washington DC touring the Capitol building and meeting with our state Representatives. The best part? These expedition experiences are free. 

We love watching students grow as individuals as they experience the world first hand. 

If you want to know more about our academics, we’re working to jot down an explainer soon. 

If you want to know more about enrollment, we can help you answer your questions.