For his entire adult life, Jay Martini has been an advocate and educator of high school age students who did not find success, feel welcome, or were expelled from their schools.
As a social worker Jay saw that there were few, if any, educational options for students after they were expelled or felt excluded from the school which they had attended. This reality led Jay to one day decide that he wanted to open a school that would be a home for these excluded students.
A school that would welcome everyone, no matter their background or circumstance, a place that would feel safe, and a place that would feel like a “family.” In a 2013 MPR interview he said, “The goal was to create a space for a student to get well and to heal.”
The space he created was called Rochester Off-Campus School or ROC, and it opened its doors in the fall of 1994. It was the first charter school in Rochester. Its mission was, “To serve the area's most vulnerable and at-risk youth, students who invariably see ROC as the school of last resort”.
Today, what was ROC has transitioned to become Rosa Parks Charter High School with an expanded mission.
Over the years, the school provided a space for a diverse student population – all of whom had struggled in a traditional school environment and did not fit or feel welcome in their schools.
Jay has stated that the key to the school’s success and longevity was two-fold. First, was diagnosing the needs of a student at a particular time, and second, understanding that the school needed to be run like a business, or it will fail.
When a student walked in the door Jay spent the time finding out the needs of the student by asking them “Where have you been?” “What have you tried?” “Why didn’t it work?” and, “Why do you think this place will work for you?”
In 2010 the school’s mission and the state accountability system came into conflict with each other because of low performance on the state’s tests and low four year graduation rate and so the school was put on the low performing list. As a school on the list of low performing schools it was required to undergo a quality review by the Cambridge Group from England that was contracted by MDE.
In its final report, Cambridge made a number of suggestions to enhance performance but also stated, “The school has been highly successful in giving disaffected students a second chance, in turning around their lives and helping them to become respectable and responsible adults. Such a track record is clear evidence of the school's capacity to carry on doing a first-rate job for these students."
The school does have a record of doing a first-rate job in helping hundreds of students become productive citizens and contributors to our economy whom Jay affectionately called his “punkins”.
Jay, you are a Minnesota Charter School Pioneer who has helped “Unleash Education from Convention” as the founder and founding director of Rochester Off-Campus School, but more importantly for creating a safe place for disaffected young people to have a second chance to become what they know they can be.