Riveredge outdoor school in need of new home

Novel charter school associated with NOSD, nature center both need more space, forcing move after 2023-24 year

NO MATTER THE season, students at Riveredge Outdoor Learning Elementary School spend much of their day outside at the Town of Saukville nature center where the school is located. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

The Riveredge Outdoor Learning Elementary School is leaving the nature center that it calls home after the next school year.

The Governance Council for the groundbreaking charter school that’s affiliated with the Northern Ozaukee School District on Tuesday announced the move, which will happen after the 2023-24 year.

The school will continue, officials said, but in a new location that has yet to be determined.

“One hundred percent,” Northern Ozaukee School Supt. Dave Karrels said when asked if the school will continue operating. “There’s not any consideration otherwise. They will definitely be continuing for the long term.”

A letter from the Governance Council to the community released Tuesday reiterates that, stating it “is confident that a location change will not be the end of ROLES. It’s simply an evolution.”

The school is successful, and that’s one reason it will be looking for a new home — it needs more space, Libby Larsen, president of the Riveredge Nature Center Board of Directors, said.

“We need the space. ROLES would like more space as well,” she said.

Riveredge needs space to host more visiting students and field trips and expand its programs, Larsen said, and the school needs room to grow.

ROLES got its start during the 2019-20 school year with 70 students, attracting many with its commitment to nature and the idea that the outdoors can be a classroom.

The school has grown each year, and currently has 99 students — it’s allowed to have 108 — and there’s a waiting list for most grade levels, Karrels said, adding students in the school come from more than a dozen school districts and use open enrollment to join ROLES.

“It’s another option for students, a positive experience for students in a unique learning environment,” he said.

In the letter, the ROLES Governance Council said that its five-year facilities use agreement with Riveredge ends on June 30, 2024.

While reviewing the contract this year, both Riveredge and the school identified areas of concern, the letter states, and after talks with the school district, CESA 6 and Wisconsin Resource Center of Charter Schools, the decision was made not to renew the lease.

“Over the last four years, we’ve both grown considerably, undergone leadership changes, weathered a pandemic and are both facing the realities of being nonprofits maneuvering through a tough economy,” the letter states.

Both Riveredge and the school “have aspirational goals for the future that are difficult to align,” the letter continues, adding that “over time they will hinder both organizations’ long-term growth.”

Because of that, the letter states, the school’s lease will be allowed to lapse.

“While this was not something our founders anticipated happening just five years after our launch, one could argue that they also would not have anticipated how successful the school would be in such a short amount of time,” the letter says.

The intention is to continue the school, but in a new “forever home,” the letter states, noting that even though the move isn’t imminent, the time to find a new location starts now.

ROLES will continue to have a relationship with Riveredge moving forward, the letter adds.

“Please know Riveredge and ROLES are working together on the transition of ROLES to a new location,” Riveredge Executive Director John Rakowski said.

“I am confident our organizations will continue to work well together through this transition and this decision ultimately affords both organizations the opportunity to grow.”

Karrels agreed, saying, “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to explore their options.”

In its letter, the Governance Council said it is confident it will find a new location that will meet the needs of students and the organizations.

“Together we will find a great place to thrive and school will carry on ... and hopefully we can even find a space with room to grow, as we know so many of you would like to see us do.”

A public meeting to discuss the decision will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30, in the Ozaukee High School library.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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