Elgin charter school could open in fall 2015
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The Elgin Math and Science Charter School Initiative, which was expected to submit an application for a kindergarten through eighth-grade charter school to the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board this fall, likely won't have a proposal ready until early next year, a spokeswoman said.
Any proposal has to be vetted by the U-46's charter school review committee, the school board and the community before going to state for approval.
Starting a charter school is no easy task. In April, 18 Fox Valley area school boards denied the applicants of a multidistrict virtual charter school. The Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley was proposed by K12 Inc., an online curriculum and charter school management corporation that has been publicly criticized for its high profits. That proposal is being reviewed by the state.
The Elgin charter school initiative, which has been working for more than a year and a half to research charter schools, is exploring the possibility of creating a curriculum based on "expeditionary learning," a teaching method allowing children to implement what they learn in the classroom through hands-on projects, said Karen Schock, a retired U-46 teacher and president of the charter school initiative.
"Teachers would be trained as part of our professional contract with Expeditionary Learning," she said.
The New York-based Expeditionary Learning claims its model "challenges students — even those starting with low skill levels — with high-level tasks and active roles in the classroom."
Elgin charter school initiative leaders are planning a field trip in December to Polaris Charter Academy in Chicago to observe expeditionary learning techniques applied in the classroom, Schock said.
Schock said the charter school initiative has received support from the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Yet, she added, there still is a need to educate the community to help parents understand the charter school concept better.
"We are meeting with community leaders now to ask for their support and feedback," she said.
If approved by the U-46 school board and the state, the Elgin charter school would be an option for students who don't have the scores to get into U-46's gifted or academy programs, or have the need for special education, Schock said.
U-46 has school-within-a-school programs to challenge its gifted elementary and middle school students, and high school academies for high-performing older students in targeted programs such as science, engineering and technology, foreign language and international studies, and visual and performing arts. Special education programs serve students who need extra support outside of the standard curriculum.
The envisioned Elgin charter school would be a public school with open enrollment allowing any student from U-46 to apply. Admissions would be determined by lottery, and not test scores, Schock said.
If allowed to open, the charter school would be part of U-46 and funded with public money per state law — between 75 percent and 125 percent of a district's per-pupil tuition charge could go with the students that choose the charter.
Charter schools also operate outside of most state mandates and are not subject to directives from local school boards.
The Elgin charter would be governed by an appointed board. The school would offer two classes at each grade level, and three first-grade classes with 20 students each, Schock said.
The group is in the process of choosing a nonprofit management organization to run its school. Leaders have yet to decide on a location and have been eyeing a 53-acre, wooded campus that used to house the Fox River Country Day School on Route 25, north of Interstate 90, in Elgin. The targeted date for school opening is now the fall of 2015, Schock said.
If denied by the U-46 school board, the group can appeal to the state charter school commission, she added.
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