Doug & Dee Thomas
Together, Doug and Dee Thomas have played a critical role as the visionaries and advocates for project- based learning and teacher-powered schools, as well as being co-founders of Minnesota New Country School and the EdVisions Organization.
In an interview shortly before she retired from MN New Country, Dee stated in an interview that ‘she credited Doug with putting together the plan for a charter school’. At the time Doug was a member of the Le Sueur-Henderson School Board which was looking for ways to provide educational choices for students in those rural communities. With the support of the Superintendent and Chair of the School District Board, an application for a charter was developed. MN New Country School opened its doors in Le Sueur in the fall of 1994.
One of the first things that they worked with the staff to create was EdVisions Cooperative – a teachers’ professional practices cooperative. Within a short time, the teacher led school, which implemented project-based learning methods, came to the attention of the Gates Foundation through the auspices of Ted Kolderie – the “godfather” of chartering.
In 1998 Dee received a phone call one day from Tom VanderArk, then the Executive Director of the Gates Foundation, who wanted to come and see what the school was all about. Within a matter of an hour visit and conversation over lunch the Foundation said, “We have to replicate this” and invited Doug and Dee to submit a grant for funding.
Doug took on the responsibility to write the grant application and the foundation gave $4.5 million. Initially, the EdVisions Cooperative with Doug as President undertook the task of working to replicate 15 schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
When the Gates Foundation granted another $4.5 million for replicating project-based teacher empowered school across the country, Doug founded EdVisions Schools and served as the head of that organization from 2000-2012.
Dee and Doug have been evangelists for project-based learning and teacher empowered schools. Doug was a co-author of a 2004 book entitled “The Coolest School in America: How Small Learning Communities are Changing Everything”, while Dee has done workshops around the country and world, including in Japan, China, and the Netherlands.
While the grants allowed them to promote project-based learning and teacher empowered schools, MN New Country School continued to make an impression as the model school. In 2006, MN New Country School was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the eight Best Charter Schools in the country. In 2010, the school received another national recognition from the Ladies Home Journal as one of American’s Most Amazing Schools, one of ten selected in the country.
Doug and Dee Thomas, you are Minnesota Charter School Pioneers who helped “Unleash Education from Convention” through your work to promote new teaching methods, different learning opportunities for students, professional roles for teachers and for creating Minnesota New Country School which serves as the model for other schools across the country and around the world.