Approval sought to close Rhinelander charter school
Change in state statute makes new contract unlikely, Jacobi says
By Eileen Persike
A Rhinelander School Board committee Monday voted to recommend ending the Northwoods Community Secondary School (NCSS) charter contract at the end of the current school year. School District of Rhinelander Superintendent Kelli Jacobi told Operations and Strategic Planning Committee members Mike Roberts, Dennis O’Brien and David Holperin that she and the NCSS staff and governing council had been discussing the move over the past few weeks.
Started in 2004 as the area’s first project-based school, the NCSS contract with the state of Wisconsin expires in June, 2019. Recent changes in statute language require that charter schools have their autonomy expanded to include the ability to take out loans and purchase property. That’s not something Jacobi said the School District of Rhinelander can do.
“Charter schools across the state will be dealing with this,” said Jacobi. “Charter schools are being moved from public to private, and eventually I think the per-pupil state aid will follow a student within a district, and the charters would get that aid to do with it what they want.”
Last week the governing council approved the motion to dissolve the charter in 2017 rather than 2019 for several reasons, Jacobi said, among them the enrollment, once at a high of 110 students, has dwindled in past years and now stands at 70. Other modifications, such as implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) have already been made at James Williams Middle School and Rhinelander High School, have been made that are based on charter school models.
“UDL looks at meeting needs of students, not just changing the curriculum to differentiate it,” Jacobi said. “The instruction taking place in the classroom is meeting the needs of all levels, including special needs, different learning styles and all of those pieces.”
Greg and Ingrid Weinfurter and their sons Wolfgang and Kyle live in Three Lakes, but the boys attend NCSS. Weingurter addressed the committee, saying the attitudes of his children greatly improved after transferring to NCSS.
“A couple of years ago we sought out a different form of education for our children because the current education model in Three Lakes just wasn’t working,” Weinfurter said. “NCSS has changed our family tremendously in such positive ways I cannot describe. [Wolfgang and Kyle] are very proud of their school.”
NCSS principal and advisor Wil Losch said that he and his colleagues were not blindsided, but are disappointed because they take pride in what they do.
“Charter schools exist to influence traditional schools,” he said. “In 2004 there were no project labs at the high school. Instructors at the high school were not worried about multiple means of engagement, multiple means of assessment. And I didn’t hear high school leaders talk about how to forge connections with students where you can connect with them in 9th grade and be the one adult that stays with them for four years. So I tell my fellow colleagues we’ve done our job, we’ve influence the middle school and the high school.”
Jacobi said she and the school administrators are working on a transition plan, stating that current students in grades 9-11 that are successful in the NCSS model and still want an inquiry-based part of their academic day could transition to the high school with a modified project-based learning model that leads to a high school diploma, pending development of a framework.
Meanwhile, the Northwoods Community Elementary School will remain as a charter school until June, 2019, at which time Jacobi said it will likely become another elementary school in the district or may be called something else, like a “magnet” school, or “model” school, or whatever name is trendy in 2019.
The full board will vote on the motion at the April 17 meeting at Rhinelander High School’s Superior Diesel Advanced Learning Center.