I have not seen the Madison business community step up to the plate like this since getting Monona Terrace built 20 years ago.
CUNA Mutual Foundation is backing Kaleem Caire's proposal for a Madison Prep charter school. Steve Goldberg, president of the CUNA Foundation, made that announcement this Saturday morning. The occasion was a forum held at CUNA to rally support for the project. CUNA's support will take the form of in-kind contributions, Goldberg said.
Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men would open in August 2012 -- if the Madison school board agrees. School board president Maya Cole told me that she knows there is one vote opposed. That would be Marj Passman, a Madison teachers union-first absolutist.
The school board is scheduled to decide at its meeting on March 28. Mark that date on your calendars.
CUNA is a much-respected corporate citizen. We'll see if that is enough to overcome the teachers union, which opposes Madison Prep because the charter school would be non-union.
Caire, the visionary president of the Madison Urban League, explains that the school year at his proposed school would be 23 days longer than the other public schools and the school day two hours longer. What's more, it would be all-male, predominantly black and Latino, and totally college prep.
He debunked published reports that the school would cost the district $28,000 per student. He put the cost at $19,900 for the two classes of 120. By the 2016-17 school year when all grades in the 6-12 grade school are enrolled, the cost will decline to $14,500 per student. The Madison average is $11,215.
"CUNA Mutual Foundation is in this boat with our oars in the water for this entire voyage," Goldberg told an audience of about 100 people. About 30 of that audience were young scholars from Madison Prep's successful counterpart in Chicago, Urban Prep.
Founded in 2002, Chicago's Urban Prep graduates all its students and, for the last two years, 100 percent are college-ready. The school stresses community service, discipline, and pride in oneself.
Caire contrasted those results with Madison's, where only 7 percent of black high school seniors and 18 percent of Latino were considered college-ready.
The young men all wore black blazers with the school crest on the left pocket, tan slacks, and red ties. They were polite and well spoken. They simply wowed the Madison crowd. While in Madison, the students took a campus tour of the University of Wisconsin.
"I learned how to tie a tie and now I'm pretty good at it," said student Thomas Ermine. He explained how it was important to look intelligent as well as to be intelligent, to shake hands with a firm grip and look the other person in the eye."
"Talent without character doesn't cut it in the real world," said another.
The Chicago school's associate director of college counseling, George Huff, told the audience, "I'm a hard guy. I discipline hard, I educate harder, but I love hardest."
"The teachers give us no slack at all," said one of the students. The single-gender approach meant less distractions, the boys explained. No low expectations at Urban Prep.
A student named Jermaine Taylor, a dead ringer for a young Muhammed Ali, blew everyone away with the most literate, evocative statement I've heard spoken in a long time.
"We are like raw diamonds. You must dig down deep in the core of the earth, withstand the pressure and the pain before you turn into a remarkable gem."
The audience stood immediately and applauded. There was a lot of applause Saturday morning.
"Can it be done? It must be done," said David Cagigal, vice president of the Urban League and an executive at Alliant Energy.
If the business community and people of good will stand together and pressure the school board, it will be done.
For more information and to get involved, contact Laura DeRoche-Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org.