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Notable Minnesota Moms: Elisa Knudson


Founder of Nova Classical Academy, St. Paul

By Julie Burton

Elisa Knudson is the mother of four, an attorney, and the co-founder and board chair of Nova Classical Academy. After her second child was born Elisa took a hiatus from her legal career to raise her family. So much for taking time off! In the spring of 2000, Elisa and her two co-founders Teresa Schulte and Simon Fung, made the bold move to start their own school. Since then, Elisa has spent countless hours over the last seven years building a new classical charter school in St. Paul, MN.

Determined to create an academically challenging content-based curriculum for her children in a public school setting, Elisa championed the cause, enlisted parental support, petitioned the state of Minnesota and was granted a charter to open the first public, classical K-12 school in the Twin Cities. Talking to parents about Nova wherever she could, whether she was standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for her kids to get their hair cut, she spread the word to parents looking for a school to better fit their educational expectations. The idea strongly resonated with parents. They responded enthusiastically. And through Elisa's amazing tenacity and perseverance Nova Classical Academy opened its doors in September 2003 with an unprecedented high number of applicants.

Starting a school from scratch takes a huge commitment of time and energy. Furthermore, maintaining the mission and vision of a highly regarded school requires continued commitment and determination. Elisa's strength of character is an incredible inspiration to those who know her well. Her positive disposition always makes even the most taxing projects fun. From writing the charter petition, securing grants, finding a building to house the school, searching for personnel, moving into a new building, preparing it for students, creating a Board of Directors, to marketing and fundraising...all were spearheaded by Elisa, and she has maintained a contagiously upbeat attitude through it all.

Nova Classical Academy is a direct reflection of Elisa's efforts and attitude, and she has been able to attract talented people to help realize the vision of the school. The school is comprised of a diverse student body in which the parents are true partners in the school and are valued as the primary educators of their children. The school has enrollment coming from a 25 mile radius. Elisa's efforts have raised, and continue to raise the bar for public education, as evidenced by the high student achievement on both the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment exam.

Nova Classical Academy believes that a complete education is the work of a lifetime and that the K-12 years are only the beginning of a lifelong educational journey. Elisa and the families that commit to send their children to Nova also believe that the purpose, goals, content and method of classical education will allow us to develop intelligent, literate, curious young adults who are able to read, write, calculate, think, understand, solve problems and follow through on a wide range of interests; who are self-disciplined, compassionate and moral; who are prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of family and citizenship; and who have the skills and passion for thinking and learning that will allow them to teach themselves for the rest of their lives.

Elisa's youngest child at the time of the creation of Nova was only a year old, so initially all the meetings regarding the school's development took place in her living room. As the idea grew, and not all meetings could take place at her home, Elisa hired a college babysitter about 10 hours a week. Over the past several years (although she has not actually kept track) Elisa's best estimate is that she spends 25-30 (volunteer) hours a week working on Nova in her position as board chair. Although there have been and are times when Elisa feels stretched by the demands of a growing school and raising four children, she states that the ultimate prize of offering the kind of education that will produce good citizens keeps her marching onward!

To this day Elisa continues to work side by side with the school volunteers, staff, board, and parents as the school board chair and fellow parent. She is integral to the continued success of Nova Classical Academy.

About Nova Classical Academy
Nova's mission states:

In a nurturing, small-school environment, and through the use of an academically accelerated and enriched curriculum, Nova Classical Academy will offer its learners a rigorous, thorough, systematic, challenging, K-12 college-preparatory education in the classical tradition.

Nova means new, and we hope to offer parents the option of providing their children with "a classical education for a new century." We envision a school where staff, parents and students share a unity of purpose and where all consider themselves part of a community of learners.

Elisa's Background:
Family: Husband, Scott, and Children: Peter (18), Amelia (16), Sonja (12), Mari (8).
Education: B.A. Mount Holyoke College, 1982; J.D. American University, Washington College of Law, 1987
Special Interests: Reading, Tennis, Walking

And if that wasn't enough, here's another successful venture initiated and lead by Elisa:
About 12 years ago, Elisa and her good friend and neighbor Karla Myers, started walking at 6:00 a.m. During those dark, cold morning walks many ideas were exchanged including one about forming a women's neighborhood group. The ladies found that being stay-at-home moms with small children made it difficult to get to know other women in the neighborhood. So, they gathered a group of core women from the neighborhood, plotted out a geographical boundary, and delivered 250 post cards that invited women to a first meeting in September 1997. Approximately 80 women attended and "Women on the Edge" was born (the name was derived from the main boulevard in the neighborhood - Edgecumbe Road).

Women on the Edge just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Approximately 60 women gathered for their 10th anniversary party. The group meets four times each year: March, June, September, and December. The mission for Women On the Edge is: "We are a fun, diverse, interested and interesting women of all ages living in the Edgecumbe Road area ... who meet quarterly. We are committed to participating in philanthropic projects, educating ourselves about a diversity of issues and, most importantly, building a neighborhood community."

Categories: Advice, Ideas & Stories, Feature Stories, MomShare,

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