The Monona Rag

Dealing the Dish on Monona, Wisconsin

Tag: Charter School

Charter School Concept Lives

After hearing some questions about the status of the charter school idea, I contacted several of  our board members, and one sent me to Nancy Gagnon, who provided an update about the concept.

Is the charter school idea dead?

No. There is a steering committee working for the what is called the Monona Grove School for Health and Environmental Sciences (a working title), or MG Science for short.

Here is the basic concept:

  • MG Science will be a public charter school located in vacant space within an MG building (precise location not yet determined)
  • The charter school can be attended by any middle school student in our district.
  • The school will neither increase nor decrease total state student aid paid within the district; the school receives the state aid amount per capita for each child who enrolls in the school.
  • The school will provide hands-on science instruction in a small school setting.

Where are they at in the process:

The committee is in the early stages of drafting its planning grant application to be submitted to DPI. If the grant application is approved, grant funds can be used to, among other things, reimburse a teacher(s) for drafting a detailed curriculum for the school.

Leaders in the process include the following:

BUDGETING/FUNDRAISING: Harvey Potter/Stephanie Ramer
CURRICULUM: Larry Miller/Patti McGinnis (both retired principals)
GOVERNANCE/LEGAL: Nancy Gagnon
OUTREACH: Kathy Thomas/Heidi Sigmund
PLANNING: Steph Ramer/Mike Meulemans

The Governance/Legal draft should be ready in November.

Other draft sections will be done by January, and a submission of the entire draft will be made to the MG School Board in February, 2010.

The end goal is to open the school for the 2012/2013 school year.

Conclusion

While this is the basics, it looks like the charter school people have been quietly chugging along with things. Kudos to them. While we whine and complain and blame, they are at least trying to do something. A lot more details are needed to find out if this is any kind of real option, but it’s nice to hear there is some thought being put into it.

If you are interested in more information, or have questions, please contact Nancy Gagnon at Nancy.Gagnon@wisconsin.gov.

Thanks to Nancy for replying to my emails, and thanks to Susan Manning of the Monona Grove School Board for getting me in touch with Nancy.

What do people think of the idea?

Maywood of the future

The recent vote to keep Maywood open is just life support. People can’t forget that. It will be too expensive to keep Maywood open as long as K-5 fits comfortably within the wall of Winnequah School. So, how do we keep Maywood open beyond 2010-11?

I see two options.

First, you can make it so that K-5 doesn’t fit in Winnequah, meaning you have to keep Maywood open. How do we do that? One way is to move 6-8 back to Monona – but this isn’t going to happen. The cost is over a $1 million according to the district’s study. And that doesn’t include the year-to-year costs it would take to run two 6-8 programs in the district. It’s simply isn’t going to pass muster with the board or the district. The second way is the charter school idea that is being floated around by Mayer Kahl and supporters of the option. This would return 6-8 to Monona – but as a charter school focusing on environmental studies. The beauty of this is that it is open to all district kids – not just Monona, but the Cottage Grove students. That way, if they have interest in those fields, they can attend the charter school. Students from Monona who want the special programming at Glacial Drumlin – such as music – could attend there. It would offer the district a truly unique selling point. The expansion of the Aldo Leopold Center really makes this an attractive option. It would also satisfy the Monona parents who prefer their kids to stay in the city. It gives all the kids of the district an educational opportunity. The sticking point is – of course – money. No one has really floated a number. There are some federal grants available, so perhaps that could help get things started. But we remain skeptical until someone shows us the sticker price – and how to pay it.

The second way to keep Maywood open – without moving 6-8 back to Monona from Glacial Drumlin – would be to show evidence that K-2 children are better off being left in their own environment – as opposed to being mixed with 3rd to 5th graders. Is this possible? Don’t know. Perhaps there are studies out there that show this. The district teachers argued there would be no difference (of course, some argue they said this to help keep their jobs). Perhaps they are right. It would be nice to have some evidence of either argument. But if evidence shows that keeping k-2 in their own building is an educational advantage – then we can argue that it’s worth the money. After all, we’d be doing ‘what’s right for the kids’ (I say that with sarcasm in my voice because this same statement came out over and over from people with regard to moving the 6th graders to Glacial Drumlin. It would be nice to hand it back, but hey, we digress).

But what if you can’t show having a separate environment for K-2 is better for the kids? I’d say Maywood is out of luck. As much as we all love the school, the coziness, the quaint little chairs, the lack of psychopathic older kids, the ‘safeness’ one feels – all that won’t mean much when we are a million dollars in debt every year.

I think delaying the Maywood closure a year was fair. It gives parents time to find out what their options really are (as opposed to only a few weeks). People can find the research they really need. People can examine alternatives like the charter school to fill Winnequah. And most of all, it gives people the time to come to grips with the fact that Maywood might be closing. It’s not something we want to admit, but if there’s no hope of filling 6-8 grade at Winnequah, and there’s no evidence that the K-2 grades gain educationally by having a separate school from the 3-5 grades, then it’s hard to keep Maywood open. The board will, sooner or later, put it on the block and not take it away.

Despite all the warm and fuzzy feelings that Maywood brings, economic reality will catch up. At that time, it’ll be hard to justify keeping the school open unless there’s a good reason.

Next Steps for Maywood School

Maywood School has achieved a one year extension on life, but the long term health of the beloved elementary school is not good.

The district is in serious money problems – and Monona has to make a serious argument to keep the school open.

No one doubts that Maywood is a wonderful school, and that its environment is a perfect for K-2 kids in this community. But budgets being what they are, the school will be on the chopping block again next year (and the year after, and the year after) if the community can’t provide a solid educational argument for keeping it open – so long as Winnequah sits half empty.

I see two arguments to put onto the table.

The first argument is that the k-2 kids benefit a great deal from being separate from the 3-5 graders. We can say that K-2 grades benefit by having a smaller, less threatening environment. One that helps them dramatically – as opposed to mixing kids K-5 at Winnequah.  Overcrowding can’t be used, as K-6 will fit in Winnequah, so we have to make the argument that the K-2 kids are far better off in the Maywood environment, as opposed to being mixed with the 3-5 graders at Winnequah. Can we honestly make that argument? While the arguments are valid, sooner or later a time will come where the cost savings will be too much for the board, and the school will be shuttered.

The second argument is to increase the numbers of students at Winnequah so that it there isn’t enough room for the k-2 kids. How do we do that? Open enrollment will only bring so many – it’s not anything we can hang our hats on. The obvious answer is to get 6-8 grades back into Monona. How do we do that?

A recent study by the district showed that making Winnequah a 3-8 school would cost about $1 million to accomplish. And that doesn’t include the costs of more teachers each year. Again, is this a realistic option? We seriously doubt the district will offer up this option considering the budget crisis we will be working on for the next decade.

The district is also considering an environmental studies charter school for grades 6-8 in Monona. Kids from Monona and CG could select to attend this school. We don’t want to go into the details on this, but here’s some more info on the progress of this. Needless to say, we are several years away from this happening – and there are some steep obstacles in the way of it becoming a reality. Still, it offers some intriguing ideas.

If the community can take the lead in getting the charter school going, giving the district solid hope that it actually can be done (the obstacles include grants, setting curriculum, etc. ,etc.  Money is the biggest issue (isn’t it always).

Still, as we discussed in other articles, no one is going to help out Monona except ourselves. The charter school option, even if a few years away, should be pursued. One reason is that it would offer the entire district a unique educational opportunity. A second is that it would offer Monona parents the option of keeping their kids in this community for grades 6-8.

If the charter school option can be pushed aggressively,  there becomes a strong need to keep Maywood School open in it’s current state. Otherwise, you don’t want to spend $200,000 converting Winnequah over to accept the K-2 grades, and then only have to move them back to Maywood once the charter school opens in a few years. The charter school would also help out by keeping overcrowding down in Cottage Grove. The environmental studies angle would blend well with the Aldo Leopold Center – giving Monona a truly unique selling point.

So, at this time, we should all take time to learn what needs to be done to keep the charter school option on the table. Find out how you can help. By doing so, we entertain options for our kids education here in Monona.

Come this time next year, if the option of a charter school is realistic (or even semi realistic), the board will be more likely to keep Maywood open, knowing that Winnequah will become a 3-8 school within a couple of years.

We admit that the charter school is a pipe dream, but it’s in our hands to make things happen.

Charter School in Monona?

As we said the other night, the phrase ‘charter school’ is going to be a buzz word around Monona. The other night, Mayor Kahl presented a charter school idea to the board, so now we get to have debating this idea. There’s some discussion over at Board Member Jessica Ace’s site.

Below is the mayor’s letter to the board.

We admit that this is probably nothing more than smoke – but hey, we’re good to see what can happen. After all, if you don’t try, it will never happen. The Good School Fairy isn’t going to just drop us a solution – we have to find it ourselves.

Share your thoughts on the charter school idea.

Monona Grove School Board Members and Superintendent Gerlach:

In cooperation with the City of Monona’s Sustainability Committee, I am currently investigating the process of creating a charter school for middle school children (grades 6-8) at Winnequah School. While other charter school program options will also be evaluated for Winnequah, the current intent of this potential charter school is to create a program which focuses on Environmental Studies, with an emphasis on Science and Math (Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency/Conservation, and Sustainability) while also incorporating concepts of leadership and social responsibility.

This would mean not just classroom work but working “in the field,” a hands-on experience to learning. Specifically, besides utilizing the natural surroundings found in Winnequah Park, we are in the process of reaching out to several city partners: Aldo Leopold Nature Center to utilize their existing and proposed new facilities; the Natural Step to incorporate their process into our classrooms; Veridian Homes to learn about sustainable/energy-efficient building; and Rutabaga to help our students broaden their education by working not only in the field but also on the water. Through this program, the students could also focus on an environmental area or project in need of assistance each term, semester or year to study and help improve through organizing community efforts. Dean Bowles has offered to serve on the board of directors, and we are in the process of requesting letters of support from the aforementioned organizations along with others in order to make this a successful program.

As you know, President Obama has made charter schools a centerpiece of his massive educational reform plan because of the educational value they can bring to a community. State Superintendent Tony Evers calls publicly funded charter schools a “shining example” of Wisconsin’s tradition of educational innovation. I support our educational programs in our district. I would hope to build on what we have in order to provide an even better experience for our students. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Sincerely, Robb Kahl, Mayor