BADGER ROCK (copy)

Badger Rock Middle School is seeking a renewal of its charter contract with the district.

Badger Rock Middle School is hoping to keep its charter with the Madison Metropolitan School District.

School officials presented their case to School Board members Monday during an Instruction Work Group meeting, with the board expected to vote at its January 2020 meeting on a renewal.

The project-based, environmentally focused middle school, founded in 2010, is one of two district-contracted charters in MMSD along with Nuestro Mundo Elementary School. The curriculum is focused on urban agriculture and community-building, housed in the same facility as the Badger Rock Neighborhood Center off of Rimrock Road.

The school is requesting a five-year renewal, the maximum length allowed in district policy for charter renewals. It did the same three years ago, but only received a three-year renewal as the school had “failed to meet expectations” in some of its academic areas. Hong Tran had taken the interim principal position, later taking over on a permanent basis. Monday, Tran said there had been significant improvement over the last few years.

“Those are simple numbers, but they’re filled with hard work from our staff,” Tran said Monday.

A team of reviewers for the school’s charter found it “fails to meet expectations” in seven criteria, “meets expectations” in 29 and “exceeds expectations” in two. The fails to meet expectations criteria include being below the enrollment required by the current contract, 120. This year the school has 97 students enrolled.

In the school’s presentation Monday, Tran highlighted the performance of student focus groups compared to district averages, like 56% of the school’s black students meeting growth targets in reading in 2018-19 compared to 50% of black students district-wide. Other highlights included 78% of students with disabilities meeting growth targets at the school to the district’s 52% and 36% of English Language Learners meeting reading proficiency at Badger Rock compared to 25% district-wide.

Board members pointed out that the growth numbers are different than how many students were proficient in subjects, numbers that were generally lower for the school. In other words, while students improved at Badger Rock, they still were not meeting grade-level expectations. Board members asked for more specific information on student proficiency before their January vote.

Interim superintendent Jane Belmore is expected to issue a recommendation to the board in a memo ahead of that meeting.

As part of its charter, the school is requesting a set of waivers from the district on state policies including providing bus passes for more students, changes to staff and student assignments to schools and a change to its attendance area, with a current policy to have 80% of students come from the Sennett Middle School attendance area. The governance council is also asking to reduce the required enrollment to 100, which Tran said it leaves it at 25 students for each of its four teachers.

“Not only is there space issues at Badger Rock … but I think more importantly, it impacts the quality of education, of services that we provide for our students,” Tran said. “Twenty more students, it can create a hardship in terms of what we can deliver for our students.”

MMSD interim chief of staff Michael Hertting said that was something administration had made clear it did not support.

“(We are) wanting this to become more fiscally (responsible) for the district,” Hertting said. “We believe that that’s still a reasonable amount of students, knowing that as enrollment increases, allocation increases.”

Tran touted the school’s co-teaching and co-planning approach for staff as well as the student-led learning through the garden. Students grow produce, learn to cook it and then sell it at a market to bring funds back to the school.

Staff member Jamie Ames, in her seventh year there, told the board it should renew the school’s charter because of the transformation she’s seen in recent years.

“I have watched the school go from struggling in a lot of ways to what I would consider absolutely thriving,” Ames said. “A place where even as challenges arise, I am committed to be because it’s a family.”

Board members Ananda Mirilli and Ali Muldrow shared their support for the school and its improvement during Tran’s tenure. Board members Nicki Vander Meulen and Kate Toews said they were “not comfortable voting for this with the current waivers,” as Toews put it. Administration recommended against some of the recommendations in a memo, including the attendance area change and the enrollment change.

Cris Carusi recused herself from the discussion because of her employer’s connection to a partner of the school, leaving the other six to vote. That was initially planned for Dec. 16, but at the end of its discussion, the board asked to delay the vote to January to give school and district officials more time to gather information to present.

Latasha Johnson kept sending her son, who is in eighth grade, to the school despite moving to Belleville this school year because of his growth there compared to his time in elementary school, in which Johnson said her son struggled. She was one of three parents to encourage the board to renew the charter.

“He is very happy now and he’s not as sad, I would say, as he was,” Johnson said. “I wish they could turn into a high school — that would be awesome.”

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.