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WISCONSIN: Charter schools continue to expand in Fox Cities

wisconsinAs lawmakers continue to debate a proposal that could greatly expand independent charter schools in Wisconsin, plans are in place to increase public school-based charter options in the Fox Cities.

Appleton, New London, Hortonville, Neenah, Kimberly, Little Chute and Kaukauna are home to 24 charter schools operated through public school districts.

Three more will join them at the start of the 2014-15 school year: Appleton Technical Academy (Appleton Area School District), Flex Academy (Little Chute Area School District) and Catalyst Academy (School District of New London).

Charter schools affiliated with school districts, including those in the Fox Cities, have their own governance boards and report to school boards. District staff work in the schools.

While the majority of the state’s charter schools are run through public school districts, the pending legislation at the state level would make it easier for independent charter schools to form. Independent charter schools are public schools that are run like private businesses. They don’t have to answer to local school boards or hire unionized staff.

Only the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the city of Milwaukee can authorize independent charter schools. The legislation would expand that authority to all two- and four-year UW System institutions, technical college boards and all of the state’s regional educational service agencies, The Associated Press reported.

The bill’s supporters argue it will allow independent charter schools to form in places where there is interest.

Opponents of the measure say it will take money away from public schools, eliminate local attendance requirements and school board oversight, and jeopardize federal funding for existing charter schools.

Charter schools in the Fox Cities offer a range of options that include project-based, bilingual or Montessori settings and focus on the arts, the environment or engineering.

Here is a rundown of the three new charter schools coming in 2014-15:

  • Appleton Technical Academy

Freshmen through seniors can enroll in the industry-oriented school to gain experience necessary to enter a skilled trade.

The school will be based at Appleton West High School, but students will also take classes at Fox Valley Technical College or at local businesses, said West High Principal Greg Hartjes.

For the first year, officials project 40-50 students to enroll. The ages of the students will determine the curriculum. For example, upperclassmen who have taken technical education classes before will be able take more advanced classes than younger students.

• Flex Academy

The isolation sometimes created by technology will meet its social match at the Little Chute-based charter school.

“I could see the individualized approach using technology, but there was always that piece missing — that community piece,” said lead teacher Kent Swanson. “How do you get students to be social with one another, which is a huge impact in the development of all our children? That’s where the YMCA stepped up.”

Students will receive complimentary YMCA memberships, and will have the option to have class at the YMCA or at the civic center in Little Chute.

UW-Oshkosh is another partner and will help Flex Academy stay on the cutting edge of education, Swanson said.

• Catalyst Academy

The alternative school will have options for students at risk of not graduating, students with mental health needs and emotional-behavior issues, said New London District Administrator Kathy Gwidt.

Officials conceived the idea while working on another charter school, Next Generation Academy.

“What we learned in the planning (of Next Generation Academy) is that we don’t have an off-site option for these kids, while allowing students to be part of the school community if they wish,” Gwidt said.

Officials hope to enroll no more than 25 students in the first year. The school could grow to as many as 50 students after the first year.

Henry Mohn helped establish Catalyst Academy and said the school will cater education to students’ abilities.

“Let’s meet these kids and their needs where they are, and recognize that they have incredible potential,” Mohn said.

Source: Appleton Post Crescent – by Jen Zettel

View more articles on Wisconsin charter schools

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2014 by in Charter Schools, States, Wisconsin.

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