Selected readings on US charter schools
Rhiannon Cooper put the finishing touches on a self-directed class project about asthma Friday at the John Dewey Academy of Learning in Green Bay, and tweaked a proposal for an upcoming project about tea.
“My sister has asthma, and I wanted to learn more about what she’s going through,” Cooper said. “And I want to learn more about the healthful benefits of tea.”
The ninth-grader completed her first semester at East High School before transferring to the project-based charter school, which opened last year.
“You get to learn what you want to learn when you want to learn it,” Cooper said. “It’s better than sitting in a classroom and looking at what the teacher writes on the board.”
John Dewey serves 50 like-minded high school students. An increasing number of students crave customized classes such as those offered at the charter school, Green Bay School District administrators say. To meet that need, the district in recent years had created a number of specialized schools or programs and plans to add more.
Next school year, Green Bay will launch an integrated arts program at Webster Elementary School, a nature-based 4-year-old kindergarten program at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary and iLearn Green Bay, a charter school that will combine online and traditional classroom work.
“I think the thing we’re recognizing is that to meet our mission of being college, career and community ready, we really have to provide multiple platforms,” said Kim Pahlow, associate superintendent for the Green Bay district. “We realize we have to offer more choices. We have to tap into our students’ interests.”
Also, the district lost about 1,000 students through open enrollment, which allows students living in one school district to attend school in another. School officials believe a variety of programming is one way to encourage kids to remain in the Green Bay district.
The district surveys parents and students about desired scheduling and considers the best school or building for certain programs, Pahlow said.
“Sometimes it depends on location,” she said. “Because Southwest High School is in the backyard of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, it makes sense to do joint programing, such as welding or engineering, there.”
Administrators also consider labor markets when creating new programs, she said.
“We learned they’re looking for welders,” Pahlow said. “So you focus on that. We want to make sure we have a pathway for students, to help guide them to a career.”
The Green Bay district plans to expand a program for academically gifted students from Langlade Elementary School to Lombardi Middle School in 2013-14.
The academy, or school within a school, provides students with a variety of programming and classes housed under the same roof. The Langlade program opened to students between second and sixth grade in 2012-13, and will expand to serve first-graders and possibly seventh-graders next year.
The school enrolled 72 students this year, and Langlade Principal Tammy VanDyke said at least 40 more have tested into the program. Another round of testing is planned for April.
Students must meet certain academic standards to enroll. Programming is based on a student’s individual needs rather than grade level.
“Rather than the one-size-fits-all concept that we’ve had around for a long time, schools throughout the country are specializing programs,” said Miles Turner, director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators. “Especially urban or larger school districts, but even middle-sized ones if they have the student population to support it.
“Teachers in front of a classroom spewing out knowledge, those days are going away.”
The move reflects society, he said.
“We live all sorts of customized lives,” Turner said. “We seek out the things we like, such as sports or drama. If your child likes and is talented in music, why shouldn’t he or she attend a school within a school that provides an outlet for that?”
The Appleton School District also offers customized education. It has formed 15 charter schools to provide specialized education, such as a bilingual school for kindergarteners to second-graders, the Tesla Engineering Charter School and the Renaissance School for the Arts for high school students.
John Dewey student Isaac Tschampl said the flexible program helps him to learn the computer-programming skills he wants. He’s a sophomore and attended Notre Dame Academy in the ninth grade.
“I just didn’t like school,” Tschampl said. “I didn’t get to learn what I wanted. Before, I just kind of zoned out in school. This is hands on. I’m learning a million times more.”
Source: Green Bay Press Gazette – by Patti Zarling