Public charter school proposed for Beloit

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BELOIT -- The community may have a new educational option if an application process now under way is successful.

In an interview with the Beloit Daily News on Wednesday, representatives of the Beloit 200 Education Subcommittee said the group is in the process of applying to open a public charter school designed to house 4K through 12th grades over a five-year rollout.

"This is how we as a community can give our families choices and opportunities. This new school will help ensure all graduates gain the skills and experience necessary to lead a successful and productive life after high school," said Hagen Harker, who chairs the committee and is president of Mid-States Concrete Industries in South Beloit.

The subcommittee submitted its application to the University of Wisconsin Office of Educational Opportunity on Monday for authorization for a charter school to eventually house grades 4K-12. The charter would be a public school - not a private choice, or voucher, school - and would be free for all families regardless of income, according to information from Harker and Hendricks Family Foundation Executive Director and Beloit 200 Education Subcommittee member Lisa Furseth.

If Phase 1 of the application is accepted, Kids First Beloit - the initial name given to the effort - will proceed to Phase 2 of the application, which would be due by Dec. 6. That's the point at which the Office of Educational Opportunity would decide whether to enter contract negotiations to authorize the school.

The goal is a fall 2021 opening.

Harker said the school's focus will be on rigorous academics and career readiness with a theme of "enroll, enlist, employ."

"We want every student coming out of the school district to have the choices available to make the best decisions for their future, whether it be college education, a vocational school, getting a job out of high school or serving in the armed forces," Harker said.

Harker said the charter school will focus on connecting students to more apprenticeship experiences with local businesses as well as preparing them to select possible careers so they have a plan of action by the time they graduate high school.

When the school is fully built out in five years, Furseth said the goal would be to enroll 700 students. At this time no firm plan has emerged regarding physical facilities or where the school might be located.

The plans calls for a grade rollout as follows: 2021, 4K through second and seventh and ninth grades; 2022, 4K through third grade and seventh through tenth grades; 2023, 4K - fourth and seventh through eleventh grades; 2024, 4k - fifth and seventh through twelfth grades; and 2025, 4K - grade 12.

The preliminary budget figure asumes 48 staff members in year one, and 83 in year five.

A non-profit called Kids First Beloit would oversee the school. Kids First would do its own fundraising and select board members to run the school. The board would then hire a head of school who would be in charge of hiring teachers and staff.

Those on the initial application for the school and the non-profit Kids First Beloit include Harker, Furseth, First National Bank President David McCoy, President and CEO at Hendricks Commercial Properties Rob Gerbitz and Beloit Health System President and CEO Tim McKevett. Furseth noted the composition of the board will continue to evolve as parents, community members and others are recruited to join.

The Wisconsin charter school law gives such facilities freedom from most state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability for results. Wisconsin established them to foster an environment for innovation and parental choice. They also can serve to introduce an element of competition, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website https://dpi.wi.gov/sms/charter-schools.

A charter school - like any public school, Furseth said - must comply with all required state testing and will also be issued a DPI report card. In addition, a charter school is required to serve all children, including those with special educational needs.

Although charter schools may be authorized through their local school districts, the one proposed by Kids First Beloit has applied to be authorized through the University of Wisconsin system. If authorized as an independent charter, the school would receive state aid per student in the amount of $8,618.

Harker and Furseth said they have been regularly meeting with School District of Beloit officials to see how they can collaborate. They said it's possible students in the charter might be able to take some of the advanced placement courses, for example, or other offerings at Beloit Memorial High School.

The group proposes to hold ongoing conversations with parents about potential extracurricular activities and other offerings.

The move to open the new charter school follows Beloit 200 meetings with parent groups to measure interest. According to an "Educating Our Children" survey of 48 community members with 32 of them having children in the School District of Beloit, the most common concern was children having strong basic skills, followed by dual language, safety, character education, fine arts and a culture of high expectations. The overwhelming majority of those surveyed said they were in support of Beloit having a charter school alternative.

The proposal includes a "no excuses" philosophy that any child from any socioeconomic background can thrive.

"We want the kids who need it the most. It will be on us to make sure all parents are aware that this is an open enrolled public school with no tuition," Furseth said.

If more students apply to attend than space can accommodate, a lottery would be held to select students.

Some members of the Beloit 200 Education Subcommittee have visited other charter schools around the country, including Milwaukee College Prep and Purdue Polytechnic High School in Lafayette, Indiana, where they have seen great success.

Harker said the business community is an important part of Beloit's fabric and wants to help set people up to succeed, in addition to creating alternatives that may encourage individuals and their families, who may be accepting jobs here, to want to live in Beloit.

"We want our families to be healthy, joyful, live with dignity and gratitude and to create a healthy future," Harker said.

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