Forest Exploration Center to apply for planning grant
School district lends its support to process
The Wauwatosa School Board on Monday helped plant the seeds for creating a new Forest Exploration Center Charter School when it voted to be the authorizing agency for a group that seeks a $225,000 planning grant from the state Department of Public Instruction.
If all goes as planned, the school can begin with about 50 students in September of 2013, said John Gee, executive director of the Forest Exploration Center. Gee said his organization plans to eventually raise more than $15 million to construct the center and the school on the Milwaukee County Grounds.
First steps taken
"We can get started before that, possibly in one of the district schools before moving to a permanent site," Gee said.
He noted that the planning grant process will take until about August and that a school would be expected to begin about 12 months after that.
"We have a lot of work to do," Gee told the board, "but we are going to get started gearing up for it by April."
He noted there will be public events like one planned at the Milwaukee County Zoo in mid-June in which organizers will demonstrate what will be happening once the center and school are operational.
The school's focus will be a STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - program blending environmental science instruction with engineering and a core literacy curriculum.
Gee also told the board that it would take time to flesh out details regarding the role of the district board and the charter school leadership.
"One of the purposes of the planning process is to work out these details," he said.
The school description explains that the school and the center will be fully integrated.
"The school is an integral part of the Forest Exploration Center itself - an activity, education and community center," the grant application report says. The center will have state-of-the-art technology, field stations, digital media labs, fabrication labs, wet and dry labs, a saw mill, a woodworking shop, exhibit space, a theater for presentations and events, and a food preparation and service center.
The overview also emphasized that the charter school students "will be the curators of these facilities and the stewards of the forest. The school will serve up to 175 students in grades six through 12."
Board approves 6-1
Most board members were enthusiastic, though they inquired about control and how the school would fit literacy into the curriculum. Gee assured them the school would achieve the same or better results than the rest of the district.
"I'm thrilled with this," said Mary Jo Randall, echoing the majority "yes" vote.
Phil Kroner, who cast the lone "no" vote, said he was impressed with the grant application language but still has reservations about how the school will fit into the district menu of options.
"I'm not sure that charter schools are good for the district as a whole, even though they are good for a select student population," he said. "I think we may be a year or so off (in considering the project)."
Gee has headed the center since December. He formerly was executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association and has been an administrator and board member for school districts in the western part of the U.S. He also worked in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley.
MID APRIL: Application to DPI
JUNE: Application Review
AUGUST:Anticipated grant approval
JANUARY, 2013: School Board reviews plan
September, 2013: Charter School begins in temporary quarters
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