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Riveredge, Fredonia district plan to launch charter school PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 19:46

Center’s nature-based elementary school would be sponsored by Northern Ozaukee school system

    Riveredge Nature Center is planning to launch a nature-based, elementary charter school sponsored by the Northern Ozaukee School District where students would spend most of the day outside studying subjects normally taught in classrooms.
    Clearing the way for the charter school, the Northern Ozaukee School Board on Monday unanimously approved a resolution that will allow the Town of Saukville nature center to apply for a planning grant for the school.
    “I think this is a very positive thing for the district,” School Board President Brent Neis said. “It will help us with our curriculum” and generate additional funding for the district.
    The next step will be for the School District and nature center to negotiate a charter agreement that will define the mission and methods of the charter school, as well as how state aid will be divided. It would be the responsibility of the district to hold the school accountable to its charter.
    Ted Neitzke IV, chairman of the Riveredge board of directors, said the charter agreement is expected to be presented to the School Board for approval in late spring.
    Riveredge plans to open its charter school, which would educate a maximum of 99 students in kindergarten through fifth grade on its 379-acre property, in time for the 2019-20 school year, said Neitzke, who is the administrator and CEO of the educational cooperative CESA 6 and former superintendent of the West Bend School District.
    “I’ve been in public education all my life, and while we like our desks in rows in classrooms, that’s not really a fit for some students,” he said. “Imagine your phy-ed class is tree climbing, or that you’re a third-grader whose assignment every day is taking water samples to test water temperature and clarity and record the number of frogs in a specific area.
    “What gets me really excited is that this makes children inquisitive, and that’s the key to learning.”
    The concept of a charter school, part of the nature center’s efforts to expand its educational mission as it celebrates its 50th anniversary, is an offshoot of Riveredge’s 4-year-old kindergarten program, which it runs through the West Bend School District in partnership with the Kettle Moraine YMCA, Neitzke said.
    “The expectation of our 4-K program is that 70% of every day has to be spent outside,” he said. “We bought our students Wisconsin body suits, which are waterproof and insulated, so they’re outside all the time.
    “You can learn English outside. You can learn math outside. You can learn anything outside.”
    Riveredge Executive Director Jessica Jens said the nature center’s school would be one of a handful of nature-based charter schools in Wisconsin, which in addition to being uniquely qualified to teach students about the environment have demonstrated additional benefits from outdoor learning.
    “There’s a lot of research that shows outdoor and nature-based education can increase creativity, focus and learning in children,” she said. “It’s important to our mission of inspiring  love of the outdoors, but at the same time we acknowledge the holistic benefits of nature-based learning.”
    The Riveredge school would be the second charter school in Ozaukee County. The other, Wisconsin Virtual Learning, is also sponsored by the Northern Ozaukee School District.
    Noting that Riveredge is in the Northern Ozaukee School District, Supt. Dave Karrels said a partnership between the nature center and district makes sense academically and financially.
    As the sponsoring district, Northern Ozaukee would receive additional state aid for students attending the charter school. The charter agreement will specify how much of that money will be passed along to the Riveredge school and how much will be retained by the district, Karrels said. In addition, the district would be compensated for administrative work, which could include payroll and benefit administration for charter school employees, he said.
    And because Riveredge is a financially sound, long-standing nonprofit organization, the district does not need to worry about unexpected costs, Karrels said.
    “When you look at risk vs. reward, there’s very little risk in this case because Riveredge has such a large donor base and is so financially sound,” he said. “There’s no risk of having to take out a loan on their behalf or bail them out in some other way.”
    But most exciting, Karrels said, are the potential benefits of hosting a charter school that could provide new, innovative educational opportunities for Northern Ozaukee School District students.    
    “I think there will be some wonderful opportunities for partnerships that will benefit the students in our district,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun journey.”
    Referring to charter schools as the “research and development arms” of the districts that sponsor them, Neitzke said Riveredge’s goal is to be a model for schools throughout the area.
    “We want to grow our charter school to the point where we impact educational practices throughout the region, to the point where other schools say, ‘Hey, look at what they’re doing at Riveredge. Is that something we can do?’” he said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 19:46
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