Stâre Academy to open in Baxter this fall
An informational session is scheduled for 3-5 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at Heritage Church in Baxter.
BAXTER — Stâre Academy is the newest school in the Brainerd lakes area and plans to open its doors this fall.
With a name meaning “stand firm” in Latin (and pronounced STAR-eh), the goal of the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school is to provide students with three foundational components and six distinctive core characteristics.
The three components are character formation, exemplary academics and grace to grow. The six distinctive features board members believe make the school unique are: God-centered, classical and experiential, world engagement, high accountability, staff stewardship and affordability for all.
“I think the fabric of why this school is different is, we’re really focused, not on making kids smart. We’re really focused on building kids’ character,” Stâre Academy Board President Brad Pieper said during an interview Thursday, April 21. “We call it ‘planting oaks of righteousness.’”
Board Vice President Tiffanie Knapp said the idea came to her after her oldest child went off to college and she began really thinking about education.
“You start asking yourself, ‘Did we prepare her to the best of our ability?’ and ‘What do kids really need to be ready to go out into the world and to be able to be transformative in the world?’” Knapp said. “So I just made a phone call to a man I respect, and he sent me in the direction of some other people who have come alongside, and we just have this phenomenal group of people that God’s brought together that are working to put the school together.”
While the school will be located at Heritage Church in Baxter and will keep God at the center of everything, it is nondenominational and not affiliated with any church, and students do not need to be religious.
“We believe that what we’re going to offer is going to be attractive to all families throughout the Brainerd lakes community,” Knapp said.
While all staff members will be Christ followers, Knapp and Pieper said they believe everyone is valuable and created in God’s image, meaning everybody will be welcome.
“We want to be a place of beautiful diversity, which means every walk, every gender, every worldview, every political leaning, every orientation,” Pieper said. “Let’s be beautifully diverse, and then let’s have a conversation around how we can create cultural harmony in a place that’s beautifully diverse.”
While not his main job, Pieper has worked in education on the side for several years, working with the Bush Foundation and the Minnesota State system. He joined the board of Hope Academy, a school in Minneapolis dedicated to providing a private, Christian education for low-income, inner city kids from minority families. The board members saw high test scores at the school, and Hope Academy expanded to several other cities across the country.
“What it taught me at the time was that there’s an opportunity to serve our children better if given the right framework,” Pieper said.
The various schools’ success made Pieper wonder if a similar model could be sustainable in a more rural community like Brainerd, without as much racial diversity as bigger cities.
Knapp and Pieper joined forces in 2021 and before they knew it had a whole school board for Stâre Academy.
Drawing inspiration from figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and C.S. Lewis, who spoke of the importance of character and values in education, Knapp and Pieper hope Stâre Academy will teach students how to think — not what to think — and how to use their unique gifts to impact the world.
“Kids really maybe leave school not really understanding what their giftings and their talents and skill are and the direction that they should be going, and specifically how God’s created them to be,” Knapp said. “That’s really important for kids, so that’s kind of the impetus in my world, at least.”
The school’s classical and experiential curriculum means students will learn to think critically and apply that knowledge to real life through hands-on opportunities. They’ll learn facts and figure out why those facts are important and how they help shape a person’s core beliefs.
Board members, teachers, staff and parents will all sign covenants with the school, with the parents’ covenants not revolving around fundamental beliefs but around involvement in the school and their child’s education.
“We feel like there’s three legs of this stool,” Pieper said. “There’s the teachers that I think are obvious. They’re kind of the most important part of a school. There’s, of course, God, which is at the center of what we’re doing, and we would feel is at the center of everything. And then there’s the parents that we think play a critical role in education, and there’s going to be a covenant for them to be involved.”
While the school will be set up to accept students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, the goal is to allow middle school students to continue their education at Stâre Academy through high school, with the first graduating class being the class of 2027.
While an exemplary private education doesn’t typically come at a low cost, Stâre Academy will be different. With the majority of funding for private schools usually coming from tuition and the rest coming from donors, Pieper said Stâre Academy will be the exact opposite. About 20% of school expenses will come from tuition fees, and the school will operate on a fair share tuition model, meaning the price for families will depend on their income. The lower the income, the lower the cost.
The rest of the money will come from benevolent giving.
“We have members of our community that want to come alongside families and give them this opportunity,” Pieper said.
While board members are still working on the school’s nonprofit status, Pieper said there have been intentions of giving from community members who want to help.
The school has a 120-day road to open plan, consisting of three main parts — staffing, curriculum development and fundraising.
Parents who are interested in enrolling their students at Stâre Academy this fall can fill out an admission inquiry form at stareacademy.com , while those interested in staff positions can fill out an employment form. Donation and volunteer inquiries can also be made on the website.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the school is invited to what board members are calling an informational event 3-5 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at Heritage Church. People can get more information, ask questions and meet board members and others who are interested in the school.
“We’re calling it an ‘inspire event,’ and we’re just asking people to bring their questions and their passion to do the remarkable,” Pieper said.