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Archive for Friday, April 3, 1998

BALDWIN GEARS UP FOR CHARTER SCHOOL

April 3, 1998

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— The district has sent out surveys to determine how many students might be interested in enrolling in the new school.

School officials here are looking for the right teacher or two and otherwise gearing up for the August opening of a new charter school.

The district only began advertising for charter teachers earlier this week. But five applications already have come in, said Gus Wegner, principal at Marion Springs Elementary and co-director of the Baldwin Experiential Charter School.

``We're looking for one or two lead teachers,'' Wegner said, ``and we hope to have someone employed by April 13 so we can take them to the board on that date and begin serious consideration of pulling together policy and curriculum.''

Wegner said the district also has sent out surveys to determine how many students might be interested in enrolling in the school, which will feature course work specifically tailored to each student and emphasize hands-on learning. Students, grades seven through 12, are eligible to enroll. The only requirement for admission is interest. Students or their parents have been asked to respond by April 15.

Wegner said the school could include up to 50 students in one or two classrooms set aside for charter schooling at Baldwin High School.

If more than 50 students ask to attend the ``school within a school,'' Wegner said, admission will be determined by lottery.

Many details of how the charter schooling will work remain undetermined, Wegner said.

But in general, it will work like this:

``Each individual student will sit down with the lead teacher and come up with a plan that meets or exceeds the state standards,'' Wegner said. ``Each student will have their own plan. It might be working with a staff member at the high school or maybe somebody at Baker University. It might even be someone at Kansas University or a chemist in Lawrence, based upon what we sense are the student's needs.

``We hope,'' he said, ``to be able to tap into each student's interests. That's where we'll begin. Too often we have students for whom school, for whatever reason, hasn't been as interesting as it should be. We want to funnel different interests into the mix.''

Kansas law only allows for 15 charter schools statewide. Each must be approved first by the local school district and then by the state board of education. The state board has asked the Legislature to authorize more charter schools. But a bill that would do that and exempt charters from most state school regulations received scant support from lawmakers and seems unlikely to pass this year.

Four of the 15 approved Kansas charter schools are in the greater Lawrence area, although none of the four has yet opened.

Jefferson County school districts are aiming for a joint charter high school for at-risk students to open this fall. Year-round charter schools are being planned in Louisburg and the Basehor-Linwood school district.

Charter schools vary in their approaches. But the common concept behind them is this: Teachers or other would-be educators are given permission to operate a publicly funded school, but free from most of the regulations imposed by state and federal education bureaucracies. But before a school's charter is renewed, it must prove its students have learned the skills spelled out in the charter contract.

``Without some of the bureaucracy,'' Wegner said, ``teachers can be very good. Then it's a question of how can you be creative and innovative to meet the needs of each student.''

The first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992. Since then, hundreds are up and running in the 29 states that allow them.

Charter school law is more restrictive in Kansas than in many other states.

It does not allow blanket exemption from regulations, but waivers from individual rules are possible.

Wegner is co-director of the Baldwin charter school along with high school principal Joe Gresnick. Wegner said the pair's responsibilities probably will pass to the charter teachers, once they are hired and the school gets off the ground.

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is shields@ljworld.com.

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