The Urban League of Greater Madison plans to start a new after-school program this year with similar goals to its rejected proposal for a controversial charter school aimed at low-achieving minority students.

Urban League President Kaleem Caire said the Urban League Scholars Academy shouldn't be viewed as a repackaged version of Madison Preparatory Academy.

"We believe in the strategies of Madison Prep, but we're trying to invoke change among our students in the schools," Caire said. "This gives us an opportunity to do that."

School Board President James Howard said a majority of the School Board supports the program, though questions have been raised about why board approval isn't required and why the proposal flew under the radar for months while the district developed a separate plan to raise student achievement.

"This is not a huge program, and it does not require any taxpayer funding," Howard said. "It's one thing if we were asking for taxpayer dollars. Then you would need to inform the public more so."

The Urban League worked closely with the district to develop the program, which will be offered in November at Toki and Sennett middle schools and serve a total of 80 academically struggling students. The program will predominantly serve low-income and minority students, Caire said.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Gothard compared the initiative to the Schools of Hope tutoring program. It would be one of several community-based after-school programs in the district, but distinct in that it would employ certified teachers.

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"Our community is rich with tutors, but they'll tell you they are not always equipped to provide the instructional strategies for students who are really struggling," Gothard said in explaining the use of teachers in the Urban League program.

The Urban League plans to cover the full costs, including a program director, two school coordinators and four teachers, with a $300,000 budget. The money is coming from private donors, including $100,000 from School Board member Mary Burke.

Participating students will brush up on reading and math skills in two 45-minute sessions after school four days a week. On Mondays students will wear Scholars Academy blazers and participate in field trips to area businesses. In a full year students would receive 270 extra hours of instruction.

The program will also need volunteers to help with tutoring and the business field trips, Caire said.

The goal is for students to commit to graduating, improve their test scores and grade-point-averages and have fewer behavioral referrals. Parents also are expected to increase their knowledge of how to support student achievement.

After the School Board voted against Madison Prep in December, Caire said he would pursue opening a private school this fall. That didn't happen, but Caire said he still would like to pursue a charter school in the future.

In March, after the dust settled from the Madison Prep debate, Caire discussed the after-school proposal with former superintendent Dan Nerad, who suggested offering it in the two schools in April. The program was developed over the summer, and the School Board was informed about it in August.

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