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New private, nonsectarian school to open in Bismarck

Posted 1:01 a.m. Monday

— One of the first structures — a light blue house with dark blue and red trim — in Bismarck in the 1880s will soon be filled with 36 elementary school students.

Maggie Barth is the director of a new nonprofit, nonsectarian school scheduled to open this fall, The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/2tgn3t4 ) reported. It's called the Innovation School, and Barth says it will offer a novel way of teaching students.

The new school will serve Bismarck and Mandan students in grades K-5. Barth said she hopes to expand each year to eventually serve students through eighth grade.

"It's an awesome old building," Barth said of the two-story structure, 613 N. Third St., which was constructed in 1889 and was previously a hair salon and most recently a daycare.

"My whole life I really wanted to be a teacher, and, when I got to college, I changed my major and got my degree in business," said Barth, who attended the University of Mary and grew up in Beulah.

She graduated from college in 2003 and most recently worked as a recruiter for United Blood Services in Bismarck. She then had children and decided to stay at home with them.

When her children started attending Grimsrud Elementary School, she became involved there, writing art grants and taking over a robotics club. She also learned computer programming and began teaching it to classroom instructors.

Barth, whose children are in second and fourth grade, said she has enjoyed her children's teachers, but learned that the rigid schedule at the school wasn't working.

"I kept feeling like I want to see more change, and there's nothing I can do from my position," Barth said. In the fall, her children will attend her new school.

The quest to open a new place for students to learn began two years ago, when she began researching other private schools across the country and visited private schools in California and Colorado. A woman in Colorado who started an experimental school several years ago is helping Barth start hers.

Barth has also been in discussion with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction officials, regarding the requirements to open a non-public school. The school has not yet been approved, according to a spokesman for DPI, and Barth said she is waiting on some compliance measures, including inspection by the state fire marshal.

In the fall, Barth began researching locations for the new school with a commercial realtor.

"We looked at several different options, and this one is just the best fit," she said of the building, which is centrally located near downtown Bismarck and near to the public library.

"The space itself is really unique," said Barth, adding that the owner, Loran Galpin, of Galpin Co., has been helpful in designing the space.

"When we did our research, it was the only the building in that entire area," said Galpin, who purchased the building in the early 1980s. An old photograph shows the building sitting alone along with the Former Governor's Mansion in a field covered in snow.

Though the inside of the home has since been renovated, the carriage stone still sits out front.

"The old outside Victorian charm is one of a few like it in the community," said Galpin, who is excited for the new school, because his granddaughter went to a similar school in Breckenridge, Colo., and, by sixth grade, she was speaking fluent Spanish and started French.

"These innovative schools — I told Maggie — to have one in our own community, I'm just thrilled," he said. "It will be fun to see those smiling little faces inside this facility."

Barth held informational meetings with parents this spring, and seven students have applied. Annual tuition is $9,000. The school will cap at 36 students, and Barth said she's committed to keeping the class sizes small, with about a 12:1 student-teacher ratio.

Students at Barth's school will learn similar content that is taught in public schools. The students will be assessed through "process-based learning," which will focus on individualized education. Recess will be held outside the building, and, every Wednesday afternoon, the students will have music, gym and art classes.

"We actually want to change the way people look at education .... We want students to direct their own learning," said Barth, adding that she and her three teachers will emphasize student engagement.

"It's really transformational when you see it in action, and I just really thought, we're ready for this. Bismarck, Mandan is ready for this," she said.

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