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School board supports exploration of charter school
North Crawford
North Crawford

NORTH CRAWFORD - North Crawford Elementary School Principal Amanda Killeen reported to the school board at the November 17 meeting about the district’s effort to explore the possibility of transitioning the district’s elementary school to a charter school format. This option would allow the district more flexibility in the school calendar, classroom format, and more, while still remaining part of a public school system.

Killeen told the board that she had been asked over the summer to look into the logistics of a charter school designation in the elementary school. She said the motivation is twofold – to increase enrollment by having unique offerings, and to be eligible for the $800,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

“We are facing the loss of students who are open enrolling out of the district to other districts that offer charter school alternatives, like the Viroqua Montessori or the LaFarge School District’s Kickapoo Forest School,” Killeen explained. “Exploring a charter school option for North Crawford could be a way for us to take a good elementary program and make it great.”

Killeen said that given the small size of the district’s school building, they would not be interested in having one room for each grade as the charter, and another room as a non-charter classroom. This would mean that the entire elementary would need to transition to the charter school format.

Killeen explained that the DPI offers grants for planning and implementation of new charter schools, or expansion of existing charter schools. The DPI grant is funded by a $95 million grant received in 2017 from the U.S. Department of Education. Four-year grants of up to $900,000 are available for planning and implementation, and grants of up to $750,000 are available for replication or expansion of an existing charter school.

The charter school is:

• established by contract between an authorizer and charter school operator/governing board

• public

• publicly-funded

• tuition-free

• open to all, with voluntary attendance

• non-sectarian

• subject to/participates in major federal programs, eg. IDEA, Title I, etc… 

Charter schools:

• are flexible/innovative

• are exempt from many state laws

• foster environments of creativity

• take experimental approaches

• function as laboratories that influence the larger public school system

• are accountable

• are held to performance standards included in their contract

• are part of the state accountability system

“Certain statutes governing charter schools are different than for non-charter public schools,” Killeen explained. “For instance, a charter school could have a farmer as a teacher, or could have a slightly different curriculum, for instance, one focusing on local history, to name a few examples.”

Killeen says she plans to circulate a survey to parents to gauge stakeholder interest. The survey will be intended to learn what specialty areas they might focus on, and who might be interested in being part of a planning group. She will send the survey to parents in the district, and to those who have open-enrolled their children out of the district.

Board member Judy Powell asked if this would allow the pre-kindergarten program to potentially be expanded from two-days-per week to four-or-five days-per-week?

“That is one possibility, and one of the intriguing options relates to the calendar options,” Superintendent Brandon Munson said. “We are going to work to gauge where parents are at, and one of the options could be for a year-round school.”

Munson said that DPI encourages elementary charter school grant recipients to have a plan to continue to expand the program to more grades. So, for instance, if the program started out for all elementary students, DPI likes to see a plan in place to then continue to offer the program to those students as they move into middle school, and then into high school.

COVID protocol

The North Crawford School Board voted unanimously to approve a ‘Test and Stay COVID-19 Mitigation Policy,’ an update to their previously approved COVID-19 mitigation plan.

The policy stipulates that unvaccinated students identified as close contacts to a positive case that is not a household member, and who are asymptomatic, will be able to stay at school for the duration of the quarantine period, if they receive a negative [rapid antigen] test result each school day, and remain symptom free. 

Following CDC and DHS guidance, vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine and are encouraged, but not required, to test between day five and seven of exposure. Contact tracing will continue to be led by the school nurse and administrative team, and any close contact who tests positive and/or develops symptoms will be required to isolate.

This move has been facilitated by the school board’s approval of in-school rapid antigen testing at their previous meeting. 

“This policy honors our commitment to try to keep as many kids in school as much of the time as possible,” Munson explained. “The Dane and LaCrosse county schools do this, as do the Kickapoo and Ithaca school districts.”

School nurse John Powell explained that this policy would simply add another layer of mitigation to the district’s existing policy.

Before the board took the final vote approving the policy, board member Ed Heisz took exception to the differential treatment of vaccinated versus unvaccinated students in the policy. He stated that he thought that all close contacts, regardless of vaccination status, should be required to undergo daily testing in order to be able to remain in school during the quarantine period.

North Crawford School Board President Mary Kuhn responded to Heisz’s concerns.

“It’s true that those who are vaccinated can test positive for the virus, but overall, studies have shown that they have a lower viral load and are less likely to transmit the virus,” Kuhn stated. “Not having their kids in school is a hardship for parents, and this policy is aimed at trying to ease that burden and make it possible for students to remain in school.”

Heisz made, and board member Jesse Swenson seconded, an amendment to the policy presented that all students, regardless of vaccination status, who were close contacts to a positive case that is not a member of their household, and who were asymptomatic, undergo daily rapid antigen testing in order to remain in school during the quarantine period.

The amendment failed 4-2 on a roll call vote, with Jim Dworschack, Mary Kuhn, Terry O’Donnell and Judy Powell voting no, and Heisz and Swenson voting yes.

Board member Terry O’Donnell asked if the school nurse monitors vaccinated close contacts daily for symptoms. School nurse John Powell responded that the county performs this function.

“The county is simply sending the vaccinated close contact a list of questions for them to answer,” O’Donnell observed. “A student might answer the questions one way if they want to go to school and another if they don’t. I think we should be doing this ourselves in the district.”

John Powell responded that doing that would probably be feasible, and that he would be willing to try it for a month, and then evaluate it at the next board meeting. He also added that another layer of mitigation that could be considered within the district would be to conduct periodic testing of all students, whether they were a close contact or not.

Munson explained to the board that this policy will remain in place even if, at some future point in time, the district votes to become mask-optional.

Board appointment

Mary Kuhn reported that school board member Tanya Forkash has resigned her seat. She said that the board needed to consider whether to appoint someone to serve the remainder of her term or wait until a new board member is elected in the April 2022 election.

“We have had, and will likely have in the future, a fair number of challenging decisions to make between now and the April election,” Munson observed. “For this reason, the best practice is not to have a school board with an even number of seats which can lead to tie votes, but rather to have a board with an odd number of seats, so that decision-making is less likely to be held up.”

Terry O’Donnell was concerned that if the board waited, then candidates for the school board could turn in their papers before the board acts to appoint someone. This, he said, could be construed as the board giving approval to one candidate and not to another.

“If the board makes the appointment at the December 15 meeting, that would likely be before most candidates have turned in their paperwork,” Munson explained. “The board could make the appointment in December, and seat the new member at the January meeting.’

The board voted unanimously to appoint a new member at their December meeting, with that member to officially take their seat at the January meeting.

In other business

In other business, the board:

• recognized Agnes Carstens for her hard work in preparing for and participating in the 2021 cross country season, and for her participation in the state cross country meet

• heard that elementary teachers had recently participated in a virtual professional development experience for the new reading curriculum rolled out this school year, and heard that the district had received an Open Education Resource grant from DPI for $10,000 for the second year in a row, which will be used to dig into best practices in the science of reading

• heard that participation this year in the district’s free dental care program increased to 60 students, up from 53 the prior year

• heard that a COVID booster clinic had been held in the school by the Boscobel Pharmacy, with 42 staff members receiving boosters, and other staff having obtained their boosters elsewhere

• heard that Crawford County Public Health had conducted a vaccine clinic for students aged 5-11 on Nov. 15, with 41 students receiving their first dose, and those students will receive their second dose on Dec. 6

• heard that the school had seven active cases in the building in the last seven days, bringing the total to 42 cases among students and staff, with four of those cases in vaccinated individuals

• heard that the district had 125 quarantine events, with 14 close contacts testing positive, and a 4.22 percent increase in close contacts testing positive

• heard that masking protocols will be on the agenda of the December 15 school board meeting

• heard that the district will participate in the ‘Redefining Ready’ program, in the third cohort run by CESA-7, to allow the district to develop its own ‘scorecard’ which will document whether its graduates are college or career ready

• approved Todd Kemper as the assistant girls high school basketball coach

• approved leaving the CESA-2 purchasing group for securing foods for the food service program, and joining HPS, which will put the district in a larger buying group

• approved participation in the Health E Pro menu planning software, which will help Foodservice Director Jen Kapinus be more efficient, at the cost of $3,600 per year

• approved the purchase of two Combi-Pro ovens for the kitchen at a cost of $70,713.56, to be paid for from funds in Fund 50 that need to be spent.