MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When he first moved to Minnesota, he only knew one thing about the state: it’s where Prince was from.

He went on to have a very successful career at Cargill.

But then found his way into the classroom.

The way Chris Pears is revolutionizing education in Minnetonka is what makes him this week’s Minnesotan to Meet.

When you walk into Vantage it definitely doesn’t look like your typical Minnetonka high school classroom.

“You’re not a teenager, you’re a young executive who’s going to get experience in a professional field,” Pears said.

And Pears isn’t your typical teacher.

He first came to Minnesota in 1993 to work for Cargill.

“I used to do bankruptcies and restructuring for them. I had a very successful career,” he said.

Then 10 years ago, he decided to make a change.

“[I was in a] fortunate position where I thought it was time for me to start giving back and I became a school teacher,” he said.

He taught U.S. history, even though he was actually born in England, grew up in South Africa and attended Oxford College. He came stateside when he got his MBA at Dartmouth in New Hampshire.

“I came to this state with my wife and newborn son and all I knew about Minnesota was one thing. It was where Prince came from,” Pears said.

There wasn’t a steep learning curve when he got here, he immediately saw Minnesota nice.

“It’s a great, supportive community, and when I say ‘community’ I’m talking about the whole state,” he said.

That includes a great corporate culture at places like Medtronic, Lifetouch, Target and beyond.

It’s what helped him start Vantage three years ago, after discussions with Instructor Brent Veninga. Veninga once worked for United Health. Both their connections have grown the program.

Last year, there were 35 students enrolled in their first course: Business Analytics.

Next year, there will be 192 students and three courses, including health care and sports science and graphic design and TV production.

“When you start to explore fields at an earlier age you really can find your passion in life,” Pears said.

Doing it early can save time, money and re-direct interests.

“You can start prior to college and prior to [spending] $150,000 and upwards on a professional field you’re not really intended to do,” Pears said.

Pears is a father of five and sees how different his kids can be in their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.

He constantly sees the need for a high school professional program.

“You see the variety and differences, the qualities and shortcomings of all of them,” Pears said.

Students do have to apply to Vantage and are accepted based on a number of factors, not just GPA.

“We see the broad range of their skill sets, their ability to present to major companies, their ability to work together collaboratively, their ability to resolve problems,” Pears said.

A type of classroom where sometimes the students are the ones doing the teaching.

Pears hopes can expand beyond Minnetonka to other communities in the state.

He thinks our schools do a good job identifying at risk groups and high achievers, but really wants to target the kids in the middle, who can accelerate their learning and immediately get into jobs and contribute.

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