Elgin charter school group holds first public talk
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News September 11, 2012 1:02PM
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:26PM
ELGIN — There are many positives associated with creating a charter school in Elgin, activists for the idea said this week.
“More people will come from private schools back to the public school system,” said Kari White, a member of the Elgin Charter School Initiative.
Property values could increase, innovative ideas could be passed on to other schools in the district, and grant money could be attracted to a charter school, those organizers added.
A community meeting this week at Zion Lutheran Church, on Griswold Avenue in Elgin’s South West Area Neighborhood, was the first public information session for a proposed Elgin School District U46 charter school, said Karen Schock, one of the initiative’s founders.
The meeting’s purpose was twofold, Schock said: explain what work the charter school group has done so far, and see what parents would want in an Elgin charter school.
The initiative’s organizers began discussing the idea in February, White said, after the idea was brought up in an Elgin City Council strategic planning session.
District U46 Superintendent Jose Torres indicated he was not in favor of a charter school when he gave the city council a “state of the district” address in August.
“Our intention is to work cooperatively with the district,” said council member Anna Moeller, who is involved in the initiative as well.
“We want this to be a collaborative, cooperative process,” she said, adding that the group has met with Torres and school board members. Their response to the plan “will depend on the final product that we bring to them,” Moeller said.
One of the first things they needed to do, however, was see what parents know or believe they know about charter schools.
They are free for public school students to attend, White said. Students may attend a charter school regardless of their socioeconomic status or classroom ability.
However, with limited classrooms and teachers, as well as funding, enrollment is capped. Parents must apply for their children to attend charter schools; and if more students apply than spaces are available, they are picked by lottery, according to White.
Charter schools are accountable to the parents and residents, she said.
What charter schools can do, organizers said, is give parents choice.
What those choices are will be up to the community.
“This is really still another beginning for this group,” said Kerry Kelly, an Elgin attorney married to Elgin Councilman John Steffen. “We have done our work and are coming to the public.”
The plan, as it stands now, is for an elementary school that would be math- and science-focused, and open for the 2014-15 school year, Kelly said. While organizers would like a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facility, it likely would start with the lower grades — kindergarten, first and second grades — then add students through the years. How many classrooms and how many students that potential school could house is also an unknown, organizers said.
Neither is a location picked, Schock said, adding that a rental location is probably the only affordable option.
Some of the eight residents who attended the informational session said while they liked the idea, their children would be too old to attend. Others questioned if a math and science curriculum would ignore music and art.
Science and arts are not exclusive of each other, Kelly said.
They also want a charter school to mirror the community, she added.
“It would have the same demographics as the rest of Elgin. It would be a spur … bring competition to the picture, spark other changes like magnet schools in the elementary schools,” Kelly said. “We are all dedicated to Elgin, and we want to bring a positive thing to the schools, attract and keep our families, and make U46 a positive as much as we can.”