Center for Resilient Cities
A rendering by the Center for Resilient Cities of a Badger School campus.
The idea to start Madison's first green charter school is getting a favorable early reception from the Madison Board of Education. Says board member Ed Hughes, "You'd have to be brain dead not to be excited about this project."
The school board on Monday heard the proposal for Badger Rock Middle School, a small, year-round, project-based environmental charter. Afterward, Hughes and three other board members a majority indicated they will support the group's first step: application to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI) for a planning grant. The proposal is set for a formal vote of the seven-member board during the board's regular meeting Monday, Jan 11.
"Their proposal was very thorough and very innovative," says board member Beth Moss. "It has a lot of impressive community and statewide support, and support from some national organizations. I'd be interested to see what they can come up with and I hope that we will be able to approve their going ahead."
The DPI last year received $86 million from the federal government to help fund charter schools and wants to help launch 130 charters by 2014. With board approval, the Badger Rock group will be able to apply for a grant next month that could result in $200,000 one-year planning costs for the school. If the plan advances further, the DPI also awards competitive grants covering the first two years of charter school operation.
"I will vote for it on Monday," says board member Marge Passman. "This is why we have charter schools. I have a problem starting charter schools just to have charter schools and believe most things can be done in our own schools with help of parents and the community. But this is unique."
The Badger Rock planning group has lined up partners led by the Madison's Center for Resilient Cities, Milwaukee-based Growing Power and its chief executive Will Allen, The Madison Area Community Land Trust. Other supporters include Sustain Dane, Madison Gas & Electric, Edgewood College, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"From our perspective, this represents a flagship opportunity," Sustain Dane Executive Director Kristen Joyner told the board Monday.
As proposed, the school would serve 120 sixth- through eight-graders. It would be located within the and its partners on Monday finalized its $500,000 purchase of the old school building from Dane County. Center Executive Director Tom Dunbar says the group now will details its plans with neighborhood residents and others interested in the work at this seven-acre urban agriculture and community campus.
Badger Rock would be part of this facility; construction could begin in fall 2010 in anticipation of the school opening in fall 2011.
Students would learn in multi-aged groups through project-based curricula which include field projects, publications and public-service projects. The year-round aspect of the school would have Badger Rock open the standard 180 days, but throughout the summer growing season with a longer August break as well as extended winter and spring breaks.
"I think it's an interesting proposal and we should support their going forward with a planning grant. They're doing their homework and working hard, and I'd like to see where they go next," says board member Lucy Mathiak.
Mathiak notes in a post on her School Daze blog that the Madison board is not "anti charter." The board clarified its charter school policy after it voted down a 2007 idea to launch the Studio School, an elementary art and technology-focused charter. Badger Rock is the first proposal to be considered under these new guidelines.
"I do not believe that charter schools guarantee academic excellence, and I need to care whether the proposed school does not violate our equity policy or generate a significant draw on scarce resources," writes Mathiak. "That said, if there is a proposal that shows promise of creating a high quality school that serves the full range of our district students, I am willing to approve a charter. I cannot speak for other board members, other than to say that the rumors of our opposition are largely fiction."