Elgin charter school almost ready for school year's start
The new Elgin Math and Science Academy Charter School will be ready for business next week ahead of the start of classes on Aug. 15, officials said Friday.
Enrollment is at the maximum of 208 students in kindergarten through third grades for the school's inaugural year -- two classes each of 26 students per grade.
"There is a waiting list for every grade," said Kerin Kelly, an estate lawyer and president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative, whose board will manage the school. "Currently EMSA has 123 students on its waitlist. In total, more than 400 students applied for EMSA's 208 seats."
The group fought for and won state permission to open the Elgin charter school after previously being denied once by the Illinois State Charter School Commission and twice by the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board. In October, the state panel sanctioned the charter primarily to serve at-risk students in the area under state oversight.
School leaders plan to add grades each year through eighth grade. The state has capped enrollment at 400 by the fifth year.
The state pays 100 percent of tuition costs -- roughly $10,300 per student -- plus categorical funding, such as special education and Title I funds for low-income students, for a total budget of roughly $2.1 million yearly. Operational costs are expected to be $4.8 million at full enrollment.
Families must pay a $145 registration fee, which could be waived for students qualifying for the federal free and reduced-lunch program, and a $60 activity fee.
Roughly half the students enrolled are eligible for free and reduced lunch, Kelly said.
Students will be served breakfast and lunch provided by Chicago-based food service provider Gourmet Gorilla Inc.
Lezlie Fuhr, 45, a 22-year veteran educator, was hired earlier this year as the school's first principal. Since then, Fuhr has hired 10 teachers, eight teacher assistants, four administrators and a support staff member. School leaders also have hired a bilingual coordinator, a special education director, chief financial officer and instructional coach, Kelly said.
Teachers underwent five days of intensive Expeditionary Learning Education training earlier this month in Denver and Milwaukee. They start work Wednesday. All school employees will be trained starting Tuesday through Aug. 14 in the expeditionary learning model and curriculum development, Kelly said.
Costs of renovating the school site -- the former Fox River Country Day School campus on Dundee Avenue, leased from the city of Elgin -- have come in below the $200,000 budgeted for repairs of the Neill building, which houses 13 classrooms.
"We have had many generous donations of time and materials," Kelly said. "Our construction manager has donated his time to the project."
Wintrust Bank, with whom the group has a line of credit, donated dozens of office chairs, and Vecchio Manufacturing of Elgin donated student whiteboards.
This fall, school leaders will develop a plan for the other buildings on campus. That includes getting a 2,100-square-foot art barn operational -- estimated to cost roughly $200,000 to fix the windows, interior, roof and possibly add bathrooms.
"We think we can do it for less than $200,000, but we are just starting to collect some bids on that," Kelly said. "We have raised $28,000 toward the art barn improvements."
An open house and orientation for families will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at the school. Parents will get to meet teachers, tour the building and get other logistical information.