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Elgin charter school bid focuses its efforts

Updated: December 21, 2012 6:06AM



ELGIN — Two things are official: The school that the Elgin Charter School Initiative has envisioned would be focused on math and science, and it would be in the city of Elgin.

And nothing says official like a website and a Facebook page, all of which the Elgin Charter School design team announced Thursday night.

But, ECSI design team member Kari White said, “It’s not a dream that we’ve finished.”

That’s why the team invited the community to a forum hosted by the Northeast Neighbors Association about the possibility of a charter school in Elgin School District U46.

More than 40 people filled a room at The Centre of Elgin to learn more about the dream that ECSI has for a charter school in the city, opening as soon as fall 2014. It would include college prep for kindergarten through grade eight, a flexible learning environment, and inclusion of all children, according to the presentation.

“We are supporting (Elgin School District) U46,” said Anna Moeller, a member of the design team and a city councilwoman. “We want this to be an incubator of innovation for the district. We want it to be financially positive for U46, and we want it to be a positive for Elgin.”

After defining what a charter school is — a nonprofit public school with open enrollment, no tuition or entrance requirements, and accountability for its performance — nine of the 11 ECSI design team members present at the forum took questions and feedback from the community.

Some expressed interest in art programs, which have been cut at U46 schools, and dual language programs, which put Spanish- and English-speaking students together in a classroom to learn both languages. Others questioned whether U46 even would approve a charter school.

Torres opposition

U46 Superintendent Jose Torres had indicated he was not in favor of a charter school during his August “state of the district” address to the Elgin City Council.

Design team member Karen Schock said ECSI met with Torres and members of his cabinet as soon as it had a vision for the charter and has continued to meet with cabinet members weekly.

“We want to move forward certainly not combatively. We’d like to work collegiately,” Schock said.

ECSI has not yet made an official proposal to the U46 Board of Education, she said. But even if the school board rejects a proposal in the future, she said, the initiative still could get approval directly from the Illinois State Board of Education.

White said the team wants also to include the arts, “part of why we envision a longer school day and a longer school year.”

“We want to look at kids as a whole,” she said.

But its primary focus would be on math and science, although perhaps it could lead to additional charter schools focused on arts or languages in the future.

That “definitely sparked some interest” from Blake and Natalie Dolph, who live in the northeast side neighborhood and are considering where to send their young children to school, according to Blake. Both are “numbers people,” Natalie added — he, with a degree in engineering; and she, a former science teacher.

She definitely will attend future ECSI meetings, she said.

Elizabeth Thielen brought her stepson, who is nearly 5, after she was invited to the forum by a neighbor. He’s more “theatrical,” and a math- and science-focused school might not be the best fit for him, Thielen said.

But, she said, “I feel like I would support the concept of a charter school because of that whole idea of giving parents choices.”

Next up, ECSI is working to form its charter management organization. It plans to host a similar forum for the Gifford Park neighborhood, Schock said. It also wants to share information with and collect information from the community one-on-one or with small groups over coffee.

More information, or to become involved, people can visit elginmathandscience.org or email elgincsi@gmail.com.



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