Feb. 1, 2022

Classical Education - Creating Opportunity and Unleashing Potential – with Margaret Daigneau [Ep. 107]

Classical Education - Creating Opportunity and Unleashing Potential – with Margaret Daigneau [Ep. 107]

How do we create opportunity and unleash potential for America’s young people? How can we help them thrive amidst societal change and prepare them for adulthood and the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society? What can you do to ensure a...

How do we create opportunity and unleash potential for America’s young people? How can we help them thrive amidst societal change and prepare them for adulthood and the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society? What can you do to ensure a quality education is available for your children or future employees? In this episode, Linda interviews Margaret Daignaeu, Principal at Lake Country Classical Academy, a Charter School located in Wisconsin. The inspirational story of how the school was founded, tips for parents or business leaders who support school choice options, and the benefits of a Classical education model will provide valuable information for anyone interested in preserving freedom and liberty in our nation and across the world.  

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Linda: Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 - Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen, your host, and the author of Prosperity 101 - Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck and the creator of The Breakroom Economics online course. The book, the course, and the entire podcast library can be found on prosperity101.com. I seek to connect boardroom to breakroom and policy to paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement, and retention and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society. Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit prosperity101.com.

Thank you for joining with us today. We're recording this on January 27th, 2022, during National School Choice Week. If you are our regular listener, you know I'm a strong supporter of parental choice in education, and I seek to highlight school choice initiatives for I believe they are beneficial to students, families, and our entire nation. In my last episode, I interviewed Scott Jensen from the American Federation for Children. We discussed the explosive growth of the school choice movement, related legislative activities from states around the country and resources for parents to learn more about how to ensure their children receive a high quality education. We also discussed the importance of the school choice movement to employers, as they seek to hire competent workers who are able to learn and adapt in various roles and responsibilities.

That episode entitled Funding Students, Not Systems is available on my website, prosperity101.com and on your favorite podcast as platform. In today's episode, we are continuing to focus on the school choice theme, and I'm following up on an episode I recorded last year, entitled How to Think, Not What to Think. That was episode number 54 for your reference, and in that episode, I interviewed Kristina Vourax. A concerned parent who founded Lake Country Classical Academy, a charter school, as a positive educational alternative for her children and others. Kristina's example reminds us that one person can make a difference. So as we highlight school choice this year, I wanted to give a follow up to what happened with Lake Country Classical Academy. The growth that has occurred since the founding, and to do that, I'd like to introduce Margaret Daigneau. Margaret Daigneau is a master educator with 20 years of experience in the field of education.

Her expertise spans the elementary levels from pre kindergarten through fifth grade and the demographics of inner city charter and choice schools, suburban public schools and private independent schools. In 2002, Margaret received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from Butler University, followed by a Master's Degree in Education from Concordia University in 2008. For much of her career, Margaret served at a classical institution in Brookfield, Wisconsin, where she taught first and fifth grades, designed curriculum, facilitated professional development opportunities, mentored teachers and coached high school athletics. She is well versed in explicit phonics and grammar instruction as well as highly experienced in Singapore math.

Margaret moved into administration at a K through 12 choice school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2020. Her philosophy of education is grounded in the foundations of classical education. She is passionate about the fundamental components of the Trivium and wholeheartedly agrees with Founding Father James Madison who wrote, what spectacle can be more edifying than that of Liberty and Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support? Margaret is thrilled to bring her background and experience to Lake Country Classical Academy and to contribute to the success of the school's mission and vision. And I am thrilled to bring Margaret onto the podcast today, and have her give us an update about the school and just talk about the importance of school choice in America today. Thank you for joining with us today, Margaret.

Margaret: Thank you so much for having me.

Linda: Well, it is just a pleasure and I want to ask first, what led you to the field of education?

Margaret: I grew up in elementary school, knowing that I wanted to someday be a teacher, it's likely attributed to the fact that I had excellent teachers myself, who I came to love and adore. My second grade teacher, especially Mrs. Barnes will one forever dear to my heart. And she inspired me and it became something I was interested in and knew I wanted to pursue as early as freshman year in high school, and went off to college knowing I wanted to have an education degree so that I could be a teacher.

Linda: That's a great story, and as you were sharing that, I was thinking of how important those formative years of education are. We look during this pandemic and see children in virtual school, and we see so many children falling through the cracks and those formative years are so critical to their adult years. And whether they have a teacher that inspires them to become a teacher, or they have a teacher who inspires them to be a dentist or a rocket scientist. We don't know, but those relationships with great teachers can make all the difference, and great teachers who can teach great subject matter, really can help a child to reach their fullest potential. So what led you into the classical education model?

Margaret: I myself attended an independent private school as a student growing up from kindergarten through 12th grade, actually, and much of my own educational experience was in alignment with a classical educational experience. My family, from my grandparents to my parents, to aunts and uncles, were very committed to that style of education, and so I grow up with an understanding of the high quality and excellence that can be found in the classical education. And though I went through a teacher program at Butler University that wasn't necessarily grounded in the elements of classical education. I could see and identify the things that I recognized as best practice and believe those to be found in classical environments and classical institutions.

Linda: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And for our listeners who may not be familiar with the term classical education, could you define it please?

Margaret: Classical education is truly rooted in a foundation of both academics and character development. We refer to it at Lake Country Classical education as a virtue. We not only focus on teaching the basics of academics within math and literacy, history, and science, but we are intentionally invested in developing our students to be those with virtue and an understanding of what is good and what is true and what is beautiful. And a classical education identifies three progressional developmental stages, where we equip students in the youngest years with foundations in phonics, and foundations in math, and foundations in reading, so that they can then make sense of the world around them as they grow through their educational experience.

Eventually a classical education really targets logical thinking and reasoning skills, allowing students to use the factual foundation that they've been giving in order to see truth and fallacy within argument, and be able to debate relying on evidence. And the ultimate goal is to produce and nurture students who would be able to articulate and communicate in a clear and concise manner, knowing their knowledge and equipped with wisdom that can help them to go forth into the world and make a positive difference in their communities and society as a greater whole.

Linda: That's a great definition and really explanation of classical curriculum. I have really appreciated a classical approach as I homeschooled my own kids and found it to be so beneficial. And there was something in your bio that I read that I'd also like you explain to the listeners, just so we have a true base for the rest of the interview. Some of the listeners might not be familiar with the term of the Trivium. I'd like you to explain that for the listeners in more depth, so they can understand the importance of that in the education for their own children.

Margaret: So the Trivium is the overall name, essentially to the idea of the three developmental stages of a student's classical educational journey. The Trivium begins with the grammar stage, which is that first foundational stage where we focus on facts and equipping students with a firm foundation upon which to build. The logic stage of the Trivium is that second educational stage in which, logical reasoning and the skills needed to discern truth and fallacy are developed and nurtured. And then finally the rhetoric stage is the third stage of the Trivium in which we ask our students to communicate both in oral language and in written word to eloquently express their thinking and to support their opinions with evidence and reason, and be able to then defend an idea, but also understand. And with an open mind, hear the argument of the opposing side and be able to discern and judge for themselves, what is right and what is true.

Linda: We see that lacking in society. We can see how our educational system has basically dumbed down the American citizenry. And this is something that I've been warning people about and really seeing firsthand for the last 40 some years. And the dumbing down of America, in a sense taking these elements out of our educational system, has really produced a society that can be led with, I'm going to use a term misinformation, but I'm going to use it on the side of truth, because when we help students to really begin to understand how to look at information and how to discern. You use the word discern and discernment is a lost skill, I would say, a lost value, a lost character trait in so many people now, where we just take things at face value. So teaching students to truly discern and to be able to assess what is truth or what makes sense, look at things logically, you mentioned logic, look at things logically that's so important.

So along those lines I'd like you to share a little bit more about what has actually happened in the last year with Lake Country Classical Academy. And I highlight this school, so listeners, so you don't get confused. I'm highlighting this school because it's a perfect example of how one person can make a difference. Kristina Vourax, a concerned parent who said not on my watch is this happening with my children's education. And so she stepped up and she found a way to solve the problem. And her solution is now helping hundreds of students in our area, and it sends an example to parents and students everywhere. So Lake Country Classical Academy is part of the Hillsdale College Barney School Initiative. And I'd like you to share a little bit about the connection with Hillsdale College and the Barney School program, but then also the growth of Lake Country Classical Academy and how that can encourage and help not only the local parents, but parents across this nation, who would love to see the same type of thing for their children.

Margaret: Absolutely. I'm excited to talk about this, a passion of mine and we at Lake Country Classical Academy opened our doors on September 7th to a little over 400 students. So we currently have 402 students in two different locations in the Lake Country Area of Wisconsin. And it's been an exciting road that we have endeavored to pursue excellence and give to the community an option for excellence in academics and education, and for parents pursuing and looking into what might be available to their students in the area. And it really does come back down to what you said in that Kristina Vourax looked for alternate options for her own children. Unhappy and dissatisfied with the options at hand, she looked to provide an alternative. And that truly is something to be celebrated, especially in School Choice Week, that parents should have the opportunity to select and choose what they deem appropriate and right for their own children in the academic realm. And Lake Country Classical Academy is pleased to be an option for those looking for a classical opportunity.

We have 384 students returning next year, already enrolled to return, so a 95% return rate on our students. And we have slightly over 300 newly enrolled students and our enrollment window continues to the end of the month. So enrollment closes for us on January 31st and our lottery will be run on February 1st and we opened enrollment on January 1st. So we're a little over 25 days, 27 days actually into our enrollment with 300 plus students interested in attending next year. So we take that as a good sign, a sign of success, and a sign of parents interested and pursuing opportunities that are afforded to them in the area. And it goes back to again, Kristina's original initiative to make options available and to inform parents of their choices and the opportunities at hand for their children.

Linda: Yeah, that is so exciting. That growth is just incredible. And I think the listeners should know too that, because you are a charter school, it is tuition free. It's a choice school basically, tuition free. Right now you're serving kindergarten through ninth grade and the plans are to expand a grade every year until 2024 where you will have K through 12, correct?

Margaret: That's correct. We have kindergarten through ninth grade students right now, and next year we will add on one year. So we'll be kindergarten through 10th grade next year until we are kindergarten through 12th grade completely. And as a charter school, it is a tuition free opportunity. And that's why I also mentioned the lottery term, so there's no admission screening or testing to enroll at LCCA. You simply fill out an enrollment application and the lottery system is really a situation of luck unfortunately, we would love to take as many students as we possibly can and welcome all who are interested, but we take what we can as far as our facilities allow and our capacity allows and the lottery system determines what students will walk through our doors come fall of next year.

Linda: That's so exciting. I do want to highlight as well, you mentioned citizenship and basically understanding Western civilization and really the history of America. Could you explain? Explain your charter, how you're chartered with the Native American tribe and explain how in the Hillsdale College curriculum that civics and history is approached.

Margaret: Of course. That ties us back to our relationship with Hillsdale, so a little background there is the Barney Charter School Initiative through Hillsdale College is an initiative to promote classical education across the country. And there are approximately 24, I believe charter schools in the United States that are part of the Barney Charter School Initiative. And what that means is we are provided with a curriculum, a scope and sequence for kindergarten through 12th grade in all subject areas. So we're relying on Hillsdale's suggested resources, we're relying on some of Hillsdale materials and their scope and sequence, which is simply what should be covered and in what sequence it should be covered through each grade level, spanning from kindergarten through 12th grade. And our relationship with the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwe College is that they are our charter authorizer.

And we are so grateful to the LCO Ojibwe College for their trust in us and their willingness to partner with us in this belief that parents are the primary educators of their children, and really do deserve and should have the opportunity to make choices in regards to their own children's education. And so the LCO has given us their authorization to open and be a charter school here in Lake Country. And our partnership with them is also in a hope to promote and educate our students on the accuracies of history. In the sense of we would like to highlight and focus the story of the LCO Ojibwe and really make history come to life. I think that is a component of our approach to instruction in history is using the stories of people from our past and their experiences that certainly are experiences that we do not have today ourselves.

And so by learning the stories of our past and the experience of people who have come before us, we can better understand our own situation and thus make sense of the world around us. And that really is the premise of the history curriculum you asked about that we employ here at LCCA. And our hope is to have students truly understand the experiences of the past so that they can apply the good from those experiences to the present. And then thus take that wisdom into the future, looking to preserve liberty and freedom for all, and contribute to the American experience as responsible and constructive citizen.

Linda: That is so inspirational and a couple questions that may be coming up in the listener's mind. Why is it called the Barney School Initiative? So that's my first question for the listeners.

Margaret: Of course. The last name of Barney is Hilldale's contributor, and a family that they look to give credit to in the initiative of opening charter schools across the nation.

Linda: Right. I just thought the listeners might want to know that. And then also, why did you need to have the Ojibwe group be a chartering organization? So people who need to learn more about how to start a charter school in their area, this will be important information for them. And it also shows that there's more than one way to... As my grandma used to say, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Kristina kept searching for an option to make this dream become a reality, and it led to this group. It just wasn't what was easily presented, but this is a great lesson for people who may be listening anywhere to be able to look beyond the obvious, to see how to get the help you need. So could you explain that relationship and why it's so critical to the founding of the school?

Margaret: Absolutely. There are several authorizing agencies in the state of Wisconsin, for example, UW Madison can charter schools, UW Milwaukee can charter schools. There are individuals within the state of Wisconsin who have authorizing authority to charter schools, which simply means to give permission for a school to open and do things uniquely or differently than the public school district, per se. And in Kristina's journey in pursuing the opportunity to open a charter school, she pursued many avenues and many authorizers until she connected with the LCO Ojibwe College and found them to be open and willing to partner with her in an understanding again, of the sovereignty of parents and their right and opportunities to make choices for their children. And the relationship has blossomed into a partnership that has allowed LCCA to open its doors.

And we are looking forward into the future to prosper our relationship with the LCO Ojibwe College and invite them to our campus and welcome them into our classrooms. And perhaps make a trip up to Northern Wisconsin, where we might participate in some of their culture and traditions as well. And we're just eternally grateful to them for this opportunity and for their, again, I said earlier for their trust in us to provide a quality option for parents in the Lake Country Area.

Linda: So for parents who might want to charter a school in their area, what would you say should be their first step?

Margaret: I think their first course of action is to investigate the chartering agencies closest to them in their geographical area, but not limit themselves to only those, to be open to pursuing the charter authorizers across their state, but first educate yourself on who those authorizers are and how you can get in touch with them. And then persistence and determination is key in pursuing anything, so I would say be diligent and be dedicated to pursuing and communicating and making requests of those authorizers

Linda: Absolutely. Now, as you know, this podcast is largely focused on the business community and those who are employers. And we know that when employers can employ people who have good skills, reading, writing, good thinking skills that makes for a better employee and a better bottom line for the company. So what would you say to employers who may be listening in their role? What would be their role for helping the charter school initiatives around the nation to grow? And how could they help support parents to really further this type of classical quality education for their children?

Margaret: I think it comes down to being educated ourselves. I think employers need to stay tuned into the school charter and choice climate and realm, and know how it is prospering and even what challenges are in the way for charter schools and choice schools to prosper. I think employers also can look for opportunities to donate and support choice or charter schools in their area. In the instance of Lake Country Classical Academy, we look to have our graduates in a few years, be well educated, hard working, virtuous young adults that will enter the workforce either upon graduation from Lake Country Classical Academy or upon graduation from a college or a university. And we know and trust that our graduates and our alumni in a few years will be the type of worker that employers will want to employ. And the support now, both financially, and just in the greater community of charter schools and choice schools will help us to produce those students going into the future.

Linda: Some people may be wondering as they're listening, if this is a public school and it's tuition free paid for by taxpayer dollars, then why would employers or business owners or individuals need to donate? So what are the costs that are not covered through the public school taxpayer funding?

Margaret: It's interesting to explain, it's a little bit of a numbers game, but choice and charter schools receive slightly less dollars per student than public schools in the area. So comparatively speaking, we work at a bit of a deficit, not receiving as much money per to student from the state as a typical public school would. And so we hope to fill that disparity or that deficit so that we can best carry out our mission and our vision as it relates to educating the children. And that comes from financial support from outside donors.

Linda: Correct. And is that considered to be a nonprofit? Is that considered then to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit?

Margaret: Correct. Yes. That's exactly what our status is.

Linda: Yes. And so for any individuals or business owners out there, please consider donating to Lake Country Classical Academy, of course. But if you are in another state, far away from the state of Wisconsin where this school is located, look up the schools in your area because they need your help as well. And for employers or parents who would like to learn more about the Barney School Initiative through Hillsdale College, maybe they'd like to start one in their area. Could you give the information for that? So they could research how to start a charter school such as yours in their area?

Margaret: Yes, I think the best way is to go to the Hillsdale website and you will automatically see links and connections to the Barney Charter School Initiative and you can pursue through that information, the best avenue for you in your geographical location to get started.

Linda: And if people want to find more information about Lake Country Classical Academy, could you provide the website please?

Margaret: Yes. Our website is lakecountryclassical.org.

Linda: That's pretty easy, lakecountryclassical.org. And if you could just have three points for employers and or parents, taxpayers, closing points to remember about why this is so important, why school choice is so important to the future of our country, the stability of our families and our nation. What would you say?

Margaret: I would encourage parents and employers to look for opportunities to provide your children with an academic experience that you feel is good and right. Choice and charter schools are definitely an avenue that provide opportunity as public institutions, free of tuition for you to pursue. And I highly encourage if you're not familiar with classical education to investigate and find ways to learn more about that style and that pedagogy, it is one that pursues excellent in academics, as well as character and virtue. And because of those two things, classical institutions tend to nurture students who have a love of lifelong learning, who pursue education and learning for learning itself into adulthood, and who also recognize opportunities to contribute back to society. And see it as a civic duty to promote and give back to a society that values freedom and liberty of the individual.

Linda: That is so important for every one of us. For parents who may be listening or employers who may be listening and would like to provide this type of education for your children, but maybe you can't homeschool, or there's not a charter school nearby or circumstances prevent you from being the spark that ignites the growth in your area. There are many other things you can do to educate yourself and your children to supplement any public school curriculum, or even a private school curriculum that you might like to add onto. I know Hillsdale College has their 1776 curriculum, and you can download that for free and it gives great history and history information about America and the world. And I think that's a great resource. My listeners know that I have a Prosperity 101, my books, my online course, and that can be available to show in the workplace or even in the school. That just help people to understand some of the foundations of our nation and why it's important for us to uphold our constitution and the values that made America great.

These values are what made, not only America great, but help to provide the path to freedom for millions across the world. So education is at the core of that, we need to teach people, as we mentioned before how to think, not what to think. Help them to have wisdom and discernment. We need to give them the tools so that they can understand not only the past and the lessons of the past. We do not want to omit any of the dark sides of history, we want to include it so we can learn the good, bad, and the ugly so that we can take forward what is good and right, and true. And the character building components of a classical curriculum really help children to apply their knowledge so that they can be wise. And we really appreciate that with Hillsdale College Barney School Initiative with Lake Country Classical Academy, and with what you've chosen to devote your life to in educating children in these principles. Do you have any other closing comments?

Margaret: It's just been a pleasure to speak with you today, and I'm appreciative and thankful that you invited me to speak with you. So thank you.

Linda: Oh, well, thank you for making time for this interview. I know you're busy, especially during the School Choice Week, but we don't want to let it pass without really highlighting some of the successes in the school choice movement. I know 2021 was a banner year for school choice and more states enacted legislation, opening up pathways for school choice. And we just applaud that. So thank you for raising the bar and for helping people to know it can be done and kudos to you, Kristina, the board at LCCA. And we just are excited to follow up and see how the students and the school are doing maybe next year at School Choice Week. So thank you.

Margaret: Thank you very much.

Linda: Thank you again for listening to the prosperity 101 Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, share, and leave a great review. Don't forget to visit prosperity101.com to access the entire podcast library, to order my newest book, Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck or to enroll you or your employees in the Breakroom Economics online course. You can also receive the free ebook 10 Tips For Helping Employees Understand How Public Policy Affects Their Paychecks. Freedom is never free. Understanding the foundations of prosperity and the policies of prosperity will help you to protect prosperity as you become informed, involved, and impactful. I give special thanks to our sponsors, Matthews Archery Incorporated, and Wisconsin Stamping & Manufacturing. Please contact us today at prosperity101.com to let us know how we can serve you. Thank you.