Group looks to bring charter school to U-46
Members of a group pondering opening a charter school in Elgin Area School District U-46 say their proposal would complement the educational opportunities available in the district, not clash with it.
The Elgin Charter School Initiative is a not-for-profit organization consisting of Elgin residents who are researching the feasibility of bringing a charter school to the district. A charter school is part of the public education system and receives funding from the local school district. However, a charter school is not subject to the rules and regulations of the school board. Expectations and accomplishments are set out in the school's charter, which is approved by the state.
That gives a charter school more flexibility to make changes to meet school or community needs, said Karen Schock, who is listed as president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative with the Illinois Secretary of State.
"One of the biggest challenges U-46 is facing is that they are the second largest school district in the state and decisions are being made for a lot students at a lot of schools," Schock said. "The advantage of a charter school is that they can be nimble and decisions are based on the principal, teachers, students and the community. A charter's response is quicker."
The group has visited about a dozen schools across the state and has been accepted to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, a cohort of groups planning to start charter schools in the state.
Schock said the group is passionate and supportive of public education and U-46. The charter school idea is not a criticism of the district, she said.
"We wanted to find an opportunity within the public education sector that would offer options for students in Elgin," said Schock, a retired U-46 teacher and wife of former Elgin Mayor Ed Schock.
The nearest charter school is Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, which is part of Community Unit District 300.
Kerry Kelly, an attorney from Elgin whose four children have attended U-46 schools throughout their educational careers, likened the charter school to the gifted academies already offered at the high school level. At the academies, Kelly said, funds are shifted from regular education classrooms and eligible students from across the district are able to attend. The initiative is focusing on the elementary levels where group members say there is a lack of choice for local families, especially those who want to focus on the science and math track. The school would not open before the fall of 2014, Kelly said.
"The (high school) academies are really exciting because they provide different kinds of programs for kids beyond general education," said Anna Moeller, a volunteer member of the Elgin Charter School Initiative and current Elgin City Council member. "That is not offered at the elementary level, except for in dual language. This would be an added benefit for the community."
While other communities like Cary Elementary District 26 have rejected charter school proposals because of the financial impact on the district, Kelly said a charter school may be a boon for U-46.
"I think this will bring more students to the district, and more state dollars, because it will attract students and families who left the district," Kelly said.
"Those families might come back because of the charter school and what it can offer."
U-46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders said the district is aware of a proposal but that the district does not currently have any details. A meeting between the charter school group and U-46 Superintendent Jose Torres is scheduled for Thursday.