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Officials delay plans to open charter school

Too many unknowns, especially with Legislature proposing changes

Feb. 8, 2011

Germantown — The charter school Germantown School District officials have been planning features a problem-based approach to learning.

Consider the first lesson already learned.

The problems for this joint venture between Germantown and Hartford Union High school districts were complicated and the decision was made that a Fall 2011 opening simply wasn't the prudent choice.

A $175,000 federal planning grant will have to be returned and re-applied for, and the acquisition of new dollars are nothing close to a sure thing with budgets at every level of government in flux.

"We need the additional time and date to make an informed decision, as well as take time to engage with the community ensure that we do this right," said Hartford Union High School District Administrator Lisa Olson in a news release.

Germantown Superintendent Susan Borden said potential changes in Madison were a major factor in slowing down the process. There has been talk about myriad educational changes including choice programs, charter schools and Chapter 220.

Borden says it doesn't make sense to try and put together a system now that may have to change in order to fit changing legislation she characterizes as moving at "light speed."

"It's one to just open a charter school, it's another to open a charter school that's going to be a lasting impact," Borden said.

"We want to do it right and do it well, and I think it requires a little prudence."

Getting feedback from the district

Parents and community members came to Monday's meeting at Germantown High School not knowing of the delay. The school was to open in fall. One of the parents who had also attended the first information meetings told Borden he felt, "one thousand times better" after hearing about the delay.

"Based on my experience in the business world and some of the research I've already done on charter schools in Wisconsin, trying to launch a new school this coming September was too aggressive, I felt," said Stan Sak, who has two students in the district.

With a more judicious approach, Sak is excited about creating new opportunities for students in Germantown. He sees the benefits for not just kids in the classroom, but for local industry as well.

"I've been frustrated for years and years and years now about the qualifications for kids coming out of school and entering the workforce and having to retrain them in very basic things like math and proper English."

Still work to be done

One of the next major steps is putting together a governance board, a collection of local community members and business leaders, to help give guidance and resources to the school.

Borden said she's been approached by a number of people interested in helping out the charter school, whether it be on the board or helping donate resources. In fact, there has been an initial offer to donate a site for the new school, the money for which would otherwise not come from grants.

Carol Miller, who has spent the last six years as President of the Germantown Community Scholarship Fund, has shown interest in helping out. She believes changing people's perceptions about alternative schools is the best place to start.

"Home-schooled is viewed as 'these people over there' and virtual school is viewed as 'those people over there' and second chance or 'these people over here with discipline problems' this is not a program, this is an entire different opportunity," Miller said.

"What excites me is trying to get the community aware of it," Miller said. "That's going to take a lot."

But for people like Miller and Sak, investing in community awareness now could pay long-term dividends.

"Even though my kids might not end up in a school like this, the fact that it's there as an alternative and it's going to benefit at least a portion of school-age kids is a great thing," Sak said.

"I would like to stay active in this project over the next couple years and help bring it to fruition, even if my kids aren't students at the school because I think that it's important enough that we need to do something about it."

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