One City Schools in Madison will expand its independent charter next school year to start serving elementary students, eventually educating children through sixth grade.

The University of Wisconsin System’s Office of Educational Opportunity on Friday approved One City’s application to expand its charter beyond kindergarten-age children.

One City began operating as a private preschool in 2015 and as a charter school offering 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten this school year. Its latest expansion will be known as One City Expeditionary Elementary School.

“We are excited about the great opportunities ahead for the students and families of the Madison community,” Latoya Holiday, associate director of OEO, said in an email to One City on Friday. “Thank you for your hard work and commitment to advancing educational equity in the city of Madison.”

The decision by OEO broadens the options for Madison students seeking public charter schools in a district that has been historically reluctant to approve charters. The Republican-backed plan to authorize charters independent of school districts was included in the 2015-17 state budget.

The office also authorized Isthmus Montessori Academy on Madison’s North Side to become an independent charter last fall after the Madison School Board in 2017 denied the school a charter. Earlier this year, OEO rejected an application from Arbor Community School. It is still considering a charter application for Milestone Democratic School.

“We’re trying to change public education,” said Kaleem Caire, founder and head of One City, adding that the school prioritizes reducing the racial achievement gap and preparing children for a global economy.

Caire previously proposed the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school, which the Madison School Board rejected in December 2011. The school would have served a similar population as One City Schools, but would have been for grades 6 to 12.

He said the ultimate goal for One City is to serve students all the way through graduation.

Caire is running for Madison School Board and will appear on Tuesday’s ballot with two other candidates, though one of them, Skylar Croy, has dropped out of the race, all but assuring Caire and UW-Madison employee Cris Carusi will advance to the general election on April 2.

Plans for expansion

One City will phase the new grades in over four years, adding first grade in 2019-20, second and third grades in 2020-21, fourth and fifth grades in 2021-2022, and sixth grade in 2022-23.

By the end of the expansion, One City plans to enroll 316 students in 4-year-old kindergarten through sixth grade. This school year, there are 63 children in the 4K and kindergarten programs covered under the current independent charter agreement, the majority low-income and students of color.

“As One City Elementary school is built out, we are committed to recruiting, reaching and serving a diverse population of families that reflect the demographics of immediate neighborhoods that we serve,” the application said.

Class sizes for 4K through first grade would average around 10 students, while grades 2 to 6 would average about 15 students.

The school will operate on the “expeditionary learning” model, which prioritizes out-of-classroom experiences focused on local community problems or needs that result in long-term, in-depth projects.

“The education we’re providing has to move beyond reading about ‘Moby-Dick’ and ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and start addressing more real-world challenges these young people are facing,” Caire said.

Divided into trimesters, students will have classes for 19 weeks in the fall, 18 weeks in the spring and seven weeks in the summer for a total of 219 days in the classroom per academic year, or 39 more days than Madison School District children have, according to the application.

School hours are also planned to be longer than in a traditional public school setting, starting at 8:15 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m., with Mondays being an early-release day.

A five-year financial forecast included in the application calls for state per-pupil aid starting at around $1.2 million in 2019-20 and rising to $3.9 million in 2023-24. Money from fundraising is expected to make up about 44 percent of the school’s total income in 2019-20, dropping to 7 percent of the total income in 2023-24.

One City intends to keep its 4K and kindergarten classrooms at its current location, 2012 Fisher St., as it seeks another South Side location for its elementary levels.

Milestone Democratic School

OEO also signaled support Friday for a charter application from Milestone Democratic School. It hopes to open in August 2020 somewhere in Dane County to serve students in grades 7 to 12, said Sean Anderson, the school’s developer.

The school’s “Phase II” approval means the school can accelerate planning while it works to address shortcomings identified by OEO, Anderson said.

Specifically, the school was directed to:

  • Increase diversity on the board of the school’s planning nonprofit — Community Learning Design Inc. — and involve adults from a diverse background during the planning process.
  • Engage with families and communities the school plans to serve, including parents of color and parents of potential students.
  • Develop a plan for professional development among board members to include training in cultural competency, strategies for authentic engagement with communities of color, restorative justice and other areas pivotal to success of the school.
  • Identify a site for the school that is accessible to all students.

“They’re sort of the exact same things internally we’ve been talking about,” Anderson, an Edgerton technology education teacher, said of the contingencies. “They’re things we’ve known have been challenges for us.”

Anderson said that Milestone is in alignment with OEO on the purpose of charter schools “being a place to experiment and explore different educational approaches that probably the average school district would not be able to authorize.”

“In exploring and experimenting with different approaches, really the purpose is to inform public education,” he said. “While we wanted the autonomy of an independent charter school, we also want to make it crystal clear that we want to be part of the conversation and the work around public schools.”

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