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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Progressive Education?
Progressive Education came to life at the beginning of the 20th century. John Dewey, an influential reformer at the time, recognized that young people were losing valuable opportunities to learn the arts of democratic involvement. As an antidote, he recommended the characteristic education that Prairie Creek’s teachers and students practice today: cooperative learning, multi-age classrooms, theme-based and immersion study, real-world curricula, interactive decision-making, and a schoolwide ethos that cherishes social justice and champions community engagement. Teachers at our school stri
ve at all times to involve students in authentic work that has real meaning.

Prairie Creek Community School and other schools that follow progressive education principles share the conviction that democracy means active engagement by all citizens in the social, political, and economic decisions that affect their lives—and, in turn, that early education at its best should cultivate respect for individual abilities and for socially engaged intelligence in order to spur this kind of participation in community and public affairs.

What is a charter school?
Charter schools are tuition-free, independent public schools that are open to all students and are governed and operated by licensed teachers, parents, and community members.

The first Minnesota charter school opened in 1991. There are currently more than 150 charter schools in the state, educating some 35,000 students. Charter schools are financed as part of the general K-12 education system, with per-pupil funding that parallels that of other public schools. Some charter schools teach a curriculum that specializes in a certain fieldart, math, or language, for instanceor that follows an educational philosophy, as does Prairie Creek in its embrace of progressive principles.

At Prairie Creek we believe that our autonomy as a charter school invites innovation and creative rigor in our academic curriculum and assessments, and a unique culture of cooperation among our 180 students, their teachers, and parents.

Charter schools are accountable to an authorizer, which oversees and supports the school's programin our case, the Northfield School District. Prairie Creek students take state-mandated exams, fulfill challenging academic requirements and goals, and demonstrate aptitude in a variety of subjects each year in order to renew the school's charter.

By law, charter schools in Minnesota can't own real estate. Prairie Creek's building is owned and operated by our landlord, Prairie Creek, Inc., which is responsible for providing a safe and accommodating schoolhouse and grounds.

What does the word 'community' in Prairie Creek Community School mean?
Like the ripples on a pond, "community" at Prairie Creek expands from its center in the classroom. Every day, each classroom works to become a stronger learning community. We build community among classrooms every week through All School Gatherings, student council, and all-school lunches. We strive to bring parents and families into our community both through volunteer opportunities and through special events during the year. We reach out beyond our school families to our Castle Rock neighbors, inviting them to our Community Coffee, exchanging greetings as we take our regular rambles, and sharing our annual May Day celebration. Finally, we connect to the towns and countryside around us by inviting experts to share their knowledge with students and venturing out on field trips to local resources such as Dakota City Heritage Village, River Bend Nature Center, and the Carleton College Arboretum.


What grades do you have at Prairie Creek?

Kindergarten-fifth grade, with a total of 180 students in nine classrooms

Do all kindergartners need to be five years old?

Yes, by September 1

What are the school day hours?

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
8:15 am-2:30 pm   

Wednesday (late start)

 9:15 am-2:30 pm  

Does Prairie Creek have after-school care for students?  

Yes. We offer an Extended Day program that runs from 2:30-5:45 pm. The cost is $8 each day.

What food service does Prairie Creek offer?  

Our school lunch program serves a hot meal every day that features fresh fruits and vegetables, hearty entrees and soups, and a variety of pastas and whole grains (students may choose a vegetarian option)

How does transportation to and from school work?  

Students arrive and depart by both bus and car. Those who reside in the Northfield School District are eligible to ride to and from school by bus, free of charge. Many families choose this options, and others opt to drive their kids to school one or both ways. Those who live outside the Northfield School District must arrange their own transportation.


How do we apply for admission to Prairie Creek?  

It's simple: you can download the current admissions form, pick one up in person at the school office, or call the school and we will send you one. Then, fill it out and mail it to Prairie Creek or drop it off in person.

What is the deadline for applications?  

Applications for admission must be received by our office no later than the second Thursday in March.  Our annual lottery will be held the following Monday.

How are admissions decisions made?  

Admission are done by random lottery drawing. Applicants' names are drawn by school administrators and students are invited to attend Prairie Creek in the order their names are drawn. All available slots are filled on the day of the drawing; we create waiting lists for all grades. Should a chosen student decline their spot, we begin to invite students in order from the waiting lists.

Does Prairie Creek accept students for all grades?  

Yes. Though understandably there are the most openings in kindergarten, we do have occasional slots in the upper grades and invite applications for them.

How can I visit the school?  

Prairie Creek hosts open houses each year. Watch for dates on our home page or call our office.

Do you have sibling preference?  

Yes. When a child's name is drawn in the lottery, their siblings are automatically granted priority for entrance. We also offer preference for children of current staff members.

Does applying for tuition aid affect the admissions process?    
Absolutely not. Families are encouraged to apply for financial support based on their income, for assistance in affording school lunches. This process is completely confidential, and has no bearing on admissions, assessments, or school-home relationships.


How many classrooms are there?

Prairie Creek has nine classrooms (three for K-1, three for 2-3, three for 4-5), plus a Music classroom, an Art classroom, a Library, and rooms dedicated to Special Education.  

What is the class size at Prairie Creek?

20 students
Why do you have mixed-grade classrooms?  
Progressive education thrives in mixed-age classrooms. Prairie Creekers typically stay in the same classroom and with the same teacher for two years in a row, an arrangement that invites our children to be guided by slightly older peers and then, the next year, to become classroom leaders themselves. With two years together, teachers and students build deep and trusting relationships, and collaborate on tailored, sustained instruction that best fits each student's individual needs.

How is math taught at Prairie Creek?  
For a good description of our math curriculum, visit the math + numeracy page.

Is there standardized testing at Prairie Creek?  

For a good description of our academic evaluation process, visit the assessment page.

Does Prairie Creek offer a foreign language?

Yes. Our school hosts a spirited Spanish program, with instruction for all students.  

Does Prairie Creek teach the arts?

Yes. We recognize the arts as essential to every students’ education. Our school’s arts mission, always, is to orchestrate meaningful, life-lasting experiences by inviting an eclectic array of artists to inspire our students. Our permanent faculty includes a Music Specialist and an Art Specialist, both of whom teach innovative lessons in dedicated spaces at school. Prairie Creek is also fortunate to have hosted several artists for residencies—glassblowers, dancers, musicians—to complement faculty instruction, and we plan to continue these intensives as enlivening supplements to our core arts curriculum. 


Who’s in charge of administrative and governance duties at Prairie Creek?  

These areas are a shared responsibility between our director, our 11-member school board, and our office staff. Prairie Creek is greatly enhanced by several working committees of parents and community members, who support school personnel in everything from building maintenance to fundraising to technology.

Where can I read Prairie Creek’s current Annual Report?
For a good description of our funding and school operations, visit the audits + reports page.