Elgin group revives charter school proposal
Proponents of an Elgin charter school for at-risk students are hoping to kick-start the project with the help of federal funding.
A previous proposal for the charter school was denied by the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board and state in 2014. A team of parents, community volunteers and professionals from various fields spent three years preparing that first application.
Since then, the group has been courting U-46 school board members and administrators, with plans to resubmit its charter application this fall.
"We are not going to put the tremendous energy into this if we think we don't have school board support," said Kerin Kelly, an attorney and president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative.
Kelly said group leaders are trying to address the concerns raised about the charter school's finances, and how at-risk students, such as special education and English language learners, would be served.
U-46 is the state's second-largest school district, with a diverse population of more than 40,000 students. Charter schools operate within public school districts' boundaries and are funded through property taxes -- and accountable to the districts funding them -- but they are run by a separate, nonelected board and administration.
In October 2014, the Illinois State Charter School Commission denied the group's appeal of the U-46 school board's decision to reject the proposal. Commission members said while aspects of the application were impressive, the proposal was not "ready" because it did not meet the commission's standards in four categories: education plan, organizational plan, business plan and evidence of capacity.
The school initially was targeted to open in August 2015, offering classes from kindergarten through second grade in the first year and eventually expanding to eighth grade.
Kelly said the plan essentially is the same, but is led by a new design team whose first priority is securing finances.
Illinois is promised $42 million from the U.S. Department of Education over five years to provide financial assistance for the planning, program design and initial implementation of charter schools statewide. As many as 60 new charter public schools could be established with that funding.
"We should be eligible and very likely to receive the starter charter grant," said Kelly, adding the school could receive up to $900,000 over three years. "As soon as we are approved by the district, we could get up to $90,000 in the first year, which we can use to hire a school leader to do the planning."
That funding also could be used for training teachers, she added.
Group leaders plan to visit Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake and a couple of Chicago charter schools to learn from their successful models.
The group also aims to open the Elgin Math and Science Charter School in August 2018 for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. It would incorporate Expeditionary Learning curriculum -- allowing students to spend a portion of each day exploring real-life problems and solutions -- aligned with Common Core state standards. Its target audience is at-risk, low-income, Latino and black students from Elgin.
"We are going to do a lot of purposeful outreach to those groups," Kelly said.
The former Fox River Country Day School property -- at 1600 Dundee Ave., owned by the city of Elgin -- is a potential site for the school. The group also might consider sharing space at underutilized U-46 schools, Kelly said.
A kickoff event for interested families is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, at The Haight, 166 Symphony Way, Elgin. For project updates, visit the group's Facebook page.