School district might take charter school

School district might take charter school

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

The once-defeated proposal for Comprehensive Community Solutions/YouthBuild to establish a charter school for students to couple job skills with academic skills is back in the hands of the Rockford School District.

CCS is a nonprofit corporation that operates various programs and activities focusing on education, job training, affordable housing, community service and neighborhood development. YouthBuild, a program of CCS, allows 16- to 24-year-old high school dropouts to learn job skills by constructing houses and earn GEDs.

On July 17, the Charter School Advisory Committee, which last met two years ago when the proposal was brewing, reviewed the new proposal. On Aug. 14 at 7 p.m., a public hearing will occur at the school board office, 201 S. Madison.

The charter school’s operating procedures would be independent of the school district’s. Priority would go to those who have been out of school for at least a year. The school would provide an academic curriculum and vocational training in areas such as carpentry and electrical work, 36 hours a week.

Graduates would receive high school diplomas at the completion of the program. The program would be targeted toward 17- to 21- year-old pupils. The target date for the school is 2002, and YouthBuild would rent out the current building they have at 310 S. Avon.

CCS maintains that the school would help students who have faced significant educational or employment drawbacks. They also must possess any of the following characteristics impeding them from attaining jobs in the workforce: history of substance abuse; problem-solving difficulties; family conflict; history of school work problems; peer relationship hindrances; criminal justice involvement; and parenting issues.

The board initially denied the proposal, citing numerous reasons on July 13, 1999. They were:

• The proposal would be operated with, or as part of, the YouthBuild program. The application failed to create a separate, nonprofit corporation or entity to operate a charter school, but the applicants said they were willing to create one.

• The charter school wouldn’t have its own facilities but would share with the regular YouthBuild program. The application failed to specify a range or particular age group in the context of an elementary school, middle school or high school, but would accommodate youth ages 17-21.

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• The application didn’t set levels for student achievement and failed to show a feasible plan to attain achievement.

• The program had minimum levels of performance necessary to get a high school diploma.

• The program needed to convert a part of the existing YouthBuild operations to a charter school, but that contradicts the state charter statute.

YouthBuild appealed the decision to the state’s board of education, which upheld the board’s decision.

Kerry Knodle, director of CCS/YouthBuild, noted the state found no merit in the board’s reasons, except for the curriculum. “Last time we provided what we thought was a good, solid outline of the curriculum,” he said. “We fully developed it this time.” The curriculum includes social studies, English, life skills, math and science.

“The basic concept of the school has not changed,” he noted. “We’ve taken into consideration the reasons that were cited two years ago. We’ve set about to put in the necessary groundwork to cover all those things.”

Computer training is one aspect that would be added. “The numbers have changed slightly based on the demand that we’re seeing,” he said. There would be a capacity of 75 students the first year, 90 the second year, 100 the third year, 125 the fourth year and 150 the fifth year.

Knodle said it will be determined near the end of the five years whether the school should continue for an additional five years. “Charters can be no less than five years and no more than 10,” he said.

He said CCS has targeted the 17- to 21-year-old age group because that is the population that needs the services. He believes the smaller class sizes are helpful to students.

The program typically takes one and a half to two years. “The public school’s responsibility stops at age 21. In the hopefully rare event that kids need to continue, we would have funding,” Knodle said. He also stated YouthBuild will follow up with graduates.

School board Vice President Patti Delugas, who has yet to review the new proposal, said the main reason for the denial was that the curriculum lacked methods for the student to obtain a high school education. She said a low percentage of students would graduate, and the 17-21-year-old age group is beyond what the district serves.

She said the board wants to ensure that people are being educated. “That’s what we’re really going to be looking out for,” Delugas stated. “The restrictions on who could participate were disturbing to the board. It was not a program geared toward high school equivalency.”

Scott Carter of Rockford Educating All Children (R.E.A.CH.) thought the last plan was lacking in academics. “When you’re a carpenter, there’s an awful lot of mathematics involved,” he stated. “They may need a science course on soils and how it relates to carpentry.”

School board Member Mike Williams said, “I think it’s an alternative for students who have not been successful in a traditional classroom. From that perspective, I think it’s a good idea.”

However, he said some issues are being considered. Attorney James Hess is currently reviewing the legal agreement. “We asked the director of finance (James Hoffman) to review the budget,” Williams stated. “There are questions about how the board would be funding this charter school if it’s approved. There are still questions out there that need to be addressed.”

“For every year enrolled, the district would be given credit for enrollment of that student,” Williams stated. “We get a per-pupil tax allocation from the state for each student that’s enrolled. There’s a formula based on average daily attendance. We received tax dollars for every student in addition to the property taxes that we collect locally.” Knodle said it’s too premature to come up with a cost.

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