Lezlie Fuhr always dreamed of building a school from the ground up.
"Instead of trying to change a system, being able to truly construct it the right way from the onset ... that's what attracted me to this position," said Fuhr, 45, who is the Elgin Math and Science Academy charter school's first principal.
In October, a state panel sanctioned the school primarily to serve at-risk students. It opens in August under state oversight with roughly 200 students in kindergarten to third grade.
The charter group has signed a letter of intent with Fuhr and a contract is expected to be approved soon. Her salary will be between $105,000 and $115,000, including a signing bonus and moving expenses, said Kerin Kelly, an estate lawyer and president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative.
Fuhr said her family will move to the region, while her two high school-age kids finish the school year in Jacksonville in west central Illinois.
A 22-year veteran educator, Fuhr taught math and language arts for 11 years. She recently worked for Jacksonville School District 117, where she served as principal of North Jacksonville Elementary School since 2006. That school has roughly 220 students, about 60 percent of whom come from low-income families, she said.
"I read the (EMSA) charter proposal and was so inspired by what they were trying to accomplish and wanted to be a part of that," Fuhr said.
She has been researching the Expeditionary Learning Education model that will set the charter school apart from Elgin Area School District U-46 schools.
"It really makes learning meaningful" by incorporating social consciousness and character development, she said. "I really want math and science to come to life in this school. We want (students) to be those problem-solvers, critical thinkers."
Another way the charter school might differ from U-46 elementary schools is by having a more flexible, longer school day and school year, she added.
Fuhr's first priority will be hiring classroom teachers and support personnel, a social worker, dean of culture, and a school nurse. She also will be putting together a leadership team comprising a bilingual coordinator, special education director, chief financial officer, information technology manager and an instructional coach by May.
The charter group has hired consultants to serve in the roles of outreach coordinator for recruiting prospective families, interim chief financial officer and architect.
Patricia Williams, formerly with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, is serving as outreach coordinator. She has strong ties to Elgin's Hispanic community.
The next big push will be to get all 300 pre-enrolled families -- who represent 500 students -- to register online by April 4 for a lottery drawing April 11. So far, 80 families have applied, Kelly said.
Work to spruce up the school site -- the former Fox River Country Day School campus on Dundee Avenue, leased from the city of Elgin -- could cost up to $200,000. That includes maintenance and renovation of the Neill building, which houses 13 classrooms. An open house is set for 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 10. A fundraiser to cover startup costs is 7 p.m. Feb. 24, at the Dream Hall, 51 S. Grove Ave., Elgin.