Janesville52.4°

Whitewater OKs first charter school

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Kevin Hoffman
February 1, 2011
— A charter school focused on "21st century learning" will open next fall in Whitewater, in an attempt to broaden the district's curriculum to better prepare students for future challenges.

Whitewater School Board unanimously approved a contract Monday between the school district and Lincoln Inquiry Charter School, which will replace Lincoln Elementary School.


Jo Bernhardt, principal at Lincoln Elementary and future principal of the charter school, said the next seven months will be used for professional development and to laying the groundwork for the school's opening.


The school will enroll no more than 378 students from kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the contract. It will mix students of all ages in each classroom and pair them with the same teacher for at least two years.


The school will use inquiry-based teaching techniques, aiming to help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, according to the contract.


Whitewater was among two-dozen schools last year awarded a charter-planning grant by the federal government. It received $250,000, which Bernhardt said will be used for professional development during the summer. Plans are to employ about 19 teachers—the same number staffed at the elementary school.


Parents can enroll students Feb. 7 through March 7, according to the contract. Those attending Lincoln Elementary will get first priority, and if applications exceed the enrollment cap, a lottery will be held.


The contract lasts for five years and establishes the district as the charter school's source of funding. The district can terminate the contract for "insufficient enrollment" or financial issues.


Students displaced from Lincoln Elementary School who do not wish to attend the charter school will attend Washington or Lakeview elementary, according to the contract. The district has not yet determined whether parents will be able to choose which school.


Discussion of the charter school started in 2009 following a series of community listening sessions. Parents were among the group of representatives who created a petition to draft a charter plan.


A planning committee visited elementary charter schools in Appleton, Vesper and Milwaukee to begin gathering ideas for implementation.


The committee has until April 15 to apply for a grant that will further assist in implementing the charter school.


Charter schools, like normal public schools, do not charge tuition.


Whitewater School Board was expected to vote on the contract during its meeting last week, but it was tabled so minor details could be ironed out by attorneys.



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