The University of Wisconsin's Office of Educational Opportunity approved a plan to bring a new charter school to Madison that would open in 2020, with several contingencies attached.
The OEO, which approved the school's phase II application in a letter dated Feb. 15, said the evaluation committee believes the school "is innovative and has great potential to advance educational equity, especially for our most underserved students."
But Latoya Holiday, the associate director of the OEO, said the organizing group for the school, Community Learning Design, Inc., must make meaningful progress to address the concerns the evaluation committee had before entering into contract negotiations.
"There are concerns about the lack of diversity of the adults involved in the planning to-date and those on the board of Community Learning Design, Inc.," the letter says. "There are also additional concerns about the extent that communities and families of the target populations have been engaged thus far and will be engaged moving forward."
Sean Anderson, a teacher at Edgerton Middle School who helped lead the design team for the school, said the criticism was fair and sincere.
"Community Learning Design is thrilled to take the next step with Milestone Democratic School and the Office of Educational Opportunity. The evaluation by the office was fair, sincere and focused on the needs of our future students — we couldn't ask for anything more," Anderson said in a statement. "We are excited to start work immediately on meeting the contingencies described in the decision, and we are fully confident that we will meet all the expectations of OEO in regard to these important benchmarks."
Milestone's democratic model of education would make learning "much more profound and meaningful," according to Anderson.
Milestone Democratic School would allow students to have as much say in their education as teachers and administrators.
"I feel that the work we've done so far — empowering youth voice and really connecting with their communities, stories in a documented school plan — has made me hopeful that it translates into what OEO wants to support going forward," Anderson said. "We're really just waiting to see what they think."
Anderson said that he and Michael McCabe, a former principal, had ideas for the school when they launched the nonprofit Community Learning Design in 2014.
Milestone would focus on project-based learning, according to its application.
The site location of the school is not yet determined, and is part of what the students will get a chance to decide on now that the school's proposal was approved.
Milestone would have school in session year-round, with several long breaks spread out throughout the year. The school would initially have 40-50 students, but could eventually increase in size to 200 students.
Devika Pal, an eighth-grade student at Badger Rock Middle School — a charter school approved by the Madison Metropolitan School District — said being a part of the planning process for this school has been empowering.
"I feel empowered to do it (the planning), since many other people and adults don't always know what's going on in kids' minds so much," Pal said. "It's good to actually have a voice and a say in what we want ... a lot of people think kids would just plan to have recess all day, but we actually care about our education and care about making schools more engaging."
The school would be the third independent charter school in Madison since the OEO was created. Isthmus Montessori Academy and One City Schools was approved by the charter office last year. Arbor Community School's application was not approved earlier this month.
One City Schools expansion approved
One City Schools, which currently only serves students through kindergarten, had its application to expand through elementary school approved by the OEO as well.
The charter school is operated by Kaleem Caire, who is running for Seat 3 on the Madison School Board and will be on the Feb. 19 ballot.
The expanded elementary school would be called One City Expeditionary Elementary School, according to its application.
"We are excited about the great opportunities ahead for the students and families of the Madison community," Holiday said in a Feb. 15 letter to One City Schools.