The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 hearing date set for charter school issue
By Seth Hancock
A public hearing date has been set in School District U-46 regarding a proposed charter school, the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA). The date will be Monday, March 13 at 7:15 p.m. at 355 East Chicago St., Elgin and speakers need to register between 6 and 7 p.m. according to a U-46 press release.
This is the second EMSA proposal after the charter was denied in 2014 by a 6-1 vote, Veronica Noland was the lone supporter of the proposal. Traci Ellis and Donna Smith are the only other current board members on the previous board, and both voted against the proposal.
Kerry Kelly, the founding EMSA board member, said there are some key differences this time including “a new board and design team,” a “deep focus on meeting the needs of students with special needs and English language learners” and “factoring into our budget a $1 million grant and up to $4 million in loans.”
There were also three reasons for submitting this proposal including “a new superintendent” (U-46 CEO Tony Sanders), “a new school board” and “the availability of the Charter Schools Program grant” according to Kelly.
In 2014, the U-46 board voted against the proposal despite wide public support. In the current EMSA proposal it states that over 250 families signed up potential students and over 500 people signed a petition in support of the proposal in 2014, and “in the last few months, we have added more than 150 interested students and supporters.”
The proposed opening year is 2018 for grades kindergarten through third with an additional grade level being added each year until 2023 when it would reach kindergarten through eighth grade. The proposal is to have 50 students at each grade level reaching 450 total students by 2023.
There are several potential sites for EMSA, the leading one being the former Fox River Day School (FRDS) campus in Elgin. Other options include Wayne Elementary School, the Radow Building in Elgin or an alternative U-46 building.
The FRDS site is the closest to the highest number of at-risk students in the district and close to forests and nature which would be a plus for EMSA’s learning model according to the proposal.
EMSA has partnered with EL Education, formerly known as Expeditionary Learning, to develop the learning model. While partnering with EL Education, the proposal said there will be no “contracting with any third-party education service provider” or “Charter Management Organization.”
According to eleducation.org, “our classrooms are alive with discovery, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. Teachers talk less. Students talk (and think) more.” Also, “our schools build cultures of respect, responsibility, courage, and kindness, where students and adults are committed to quality work and citizenship.”
According to the EMSA proposal, the learning model allows for “real-world interdisciplinary studies where students acquire the extensive knowledge and skills necessary to produce an ambitious and substantial final product to be unveiled at a public exhibition.”
The culture at EMSA, according to the proposal, “will be driven by our habits of scholarship: Courage, Curiosity, Responsibility, Respect, Craftsmanship, and Perseverance.”
“EMSA’s vision includes welcoming students of all backgrounds and abilities and giving them the skills to reach their highest potential,” the proposal states, and the goal is to have 60 percent of enrollment from low-income families.
The costs to U-46 will be “no more on a per pupil basis than students enrolled at other schools” and is “miniscule” according to the proposal, “plus, EMSA will bring additional resources into the district, including a $950,000 federal grant for charter startup, additional private funds and the fantastic site of the former Fox River Country Day School facility and grounds, at no additional cost to the district.”
Kelly said the EMSA team has spoken with all seven board members as well as Sanders.
“Each school board member indicated his or her willingness to approve our proposal if we met certain expectations; financial sustainability was an expectations shared by all of the members,” Kelly said. “We have had follow-up communications with each board member in the past few months and weeks. Based upon our communications, we believe we have at least four solid ‘yes’ votes and an excellent chance for a unanimous vote.”
Although Kelly expressed optimism, she also knows there are potential hurdles. When asked what these possible roadblocks may be, she said: “The political environment is very delicate. Our proposal for a charter school could be a unifying topic for the board. Our model should meet the criteria for both sides of the political aisle to support--we are a locally governed, nonprofit board bringing an exciting curriculum that has proven success in closing achievement gaps, thus providing a high-quality option for families that complements the district’s other offerings. Also, our first choice of location is not the same as the district’s first choice for us.”
Of the four current board members who were not on the previous board, three have expressed support for school choice in general: Phil Costello, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward. The fourth, Sue Kerr, has expressed on some issues the need to “think outside of the box.”
However, there is a board election coming up on April 4 in which one slate of candidates (Noland, Smith and Melissa Owens) have been endorsed by a group opposing any school choice. Holt is running for reelection and Enoch Essendrop is seeking his first term, both of whom support parents guiding the direction of the education for their children.
The full 99-page proposal can be found at elginmathandscience.com.