The future for charter school Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) in Inver Grove Heights is bleak.
A last minute effort to appoint a new charter school authorizer, or sponsor, was rejected last Thursday. The day before, a federal judge also denied a request by the school for a temporary restraining order that would keep the school open until a new sponsor could be found.
The school then filed for bankruptcy late Thursday, according to media reports. The school has a number of legal debts related to a lawsuit filed against it in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union for allegedly violating the separation of church and state.
TiZA materials promote the school as a "learning environment that recognizes and appreciates the traditions, histories, civilizations and accomplishments of Africa, Asia and the Middle East."
While all the paperwork, courts, lawyers and rulings are quite complex, what it all means to teachers and families of TiZA is quite simple: Their school is closing.
Teachers were told in a voluntary staff meeting last Friday morning. Families were gathered for a similar meeting Friday night.
Fourth-grade teacher Will Toppson was one of the teachers in that Friday morning meeting. Toppson said he has been with the school for two and a half years. Before coming to TiZA, he worked in the Stillwater School District and subbed in the metro area.
After Friday's meeting, Toppson began the task of boxing up the books, games and other materials that once made his classroom a place for his students to grow. Tuesday afternoon, under blue skies and warm breezes, he worked to complete the gloomy task in the nearly empty building.
Inver Grove Heights Patch sat down with Toppson for a few minutes on Tuesday to discuss the school he is likely leaving behind for good.
Inver Grove Heights Patch: What was it like working at TiZA?
Will Toppson: It was a good environment, good kids. The staff worked well together. High expectations, high goals for their students.
Patch: How was teaching a student population with a rich cultural background different from working in other more traditional public schools?
Toppson: For some students, education seemed even more important. (They are) more apt to be interested in a school environment when their home environment isn't always as rich. They see it as more of an opportunity and less of a responsibility.
Patch: What was it like working in the school with all the chaos going on with court cases, etc?
Toppson: It's been frustrating. Students were doing a great job, (but) keeping them focused and engaged was hard when they were hearing negative rumors about the school … misinterpreting what they heard on the news.
Patch: This must be a difficult time for teachers.
Toppson: Middle of the summer is a hard time to find a teaching job, especially in an already-hard environment.
Patch: Any other thoughts you'd like to share?
Toppson: It's just disappointing that a good school is being shut down when so many other schools are struggling.