Franklin Middle School hopes to reinvent itself

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, March 21, 2013

— Hundreds of Janesville middle school students would spend grades 6-8 working on projects in science, digital technology, engineering and math if the school board and the state agree.

The Janesville School District administration is trying for a second time to get a state grant to transform Franklin Middle School into a charter school with a "STEM" emphasis. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The grant would supply startup funding of $300,000 a year for three years.

A Janesville School Board committee listened to Franklin Principal Charlie Urness discuss the plans at a meeting Wednesday.

The committee sent the grant application to the full board for approval at its meeting April 9.

The school would employ project-based learning, much like the district's TAGOS Leadership Academy does, Urness said.

Committee member David DiStefano noted that Franklin has the lowest enrollment of the district's middle schools and asked about the potential for drawing more students to the school.

Urness said officials have "optimism and hope" that this would happen, with students choosing to transfer from Marshall or Edison middle schools or from other school districts, although: "It's not my philosophy to go out and steal from other districts."

The district applied for the same grant last year but was rejected. This year's application is improved with suggestions from the Department of Public Instruction, Urness said.

The application states that "the loss of a major manufacturing base" means "Janesville needs to prepare students for global entrepreneurship. Traditional educational strategies do not align well with the requirements of the 21st century innovation environment."

The school would rely on "community partnerships for project-based learning" with a variety of local businesses and organizations.

The Janesville Schools Outdoor Lab would be used "for project-based environmental and ecology studies."

Students would be divided into "small learning communities" and would spend about a third of their days on projects; a third on courses of personal interests, which could include the arts or other non-STEM studies; and a third on classes in math and reading.

The proposal's origins go back more than a year, when the school district was considering moving the Rock River Charter School, a school for at-risk high school students, to Franklin.

Superintendent Karen Schulte met with Franklin parents and other residents at that time and found opposition to the plan, but also suggestions that Franklin become a magnet school for the gifted and talented or a STEM school, according to the grant application.

The Franklin STEM Academy's mission statement would be taken from the school's namesake, Urness said.

Benjamin Franklin is believed to have said, "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

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Last updated: 7:54 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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