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NR district studies charter school idea

New Richmond school officials believe they need to start catering to a different type of learner.

A charter school focusing on math, science, engineering and technology might be the answer.

The state is in the process of changing the regulations in dealing with charter schools, Deb Heyerdahl, district director of instruction and staff development, told school board members on Monday. Should the group decide to move forward with the school, it would need a separate name, logo, teachers, administrators and a separate entrance.

While that might seem like a lot, "ultimately we want to serve the needs of our students," said Jeff Moberg, high school principal.

A charter school would offer different instructional strategies and a project-based program, he said. The focus would be to engage the hands-on learner.

"Maybe we do this instead of trying to force square pegs into round holes like we do with some of our students all the way through," Heyerdahl said.

Students who elect to attend the charter school would be able to transfer out whenever they wanted, Heyerdahl said. Students in each grade will be taught the same lessons as other students but in a different learning environment.

The charter school also has the potential to take some pressure off New Richmond High School classes, Heyerdahl said.

"It would help with other class sizes and teachers having to deal with different types of learners," she said.

Morrie Veilleux, New Richmond district administrator, said he'd like to see some sort of partnership with WITC.

"I personally think this has unbelievable opportunity," he said.

Veilleux hopes to meet with officials from WITC to see what kind of partnership could be made and whether it would work for New Richmond's proposed charter school.

In theory, students could take classes that apply to both high school and WITC credits and by the time they graduate high school, students could have a two-year certificate under their belt.

"WITC tracks their graduates," Veilleux said. "Graduates from ag mechanics start at $31,000 and five years later they're making $58,000. Compare that to any other degree five years later. I just think this is a golden opportunity."

Rick Hinz, board president, agreed.

"I would love to see more energy go into this," he said. "This is hitting the needs of kids in new ways."

In other business Monday, the board:

• Approved moving forward with a virtual academy.

Rice Lake and Menomonie have implemented virtual academies, Heyerdahl said.

The virtual academy would target students in grades 6-12 with schedule conflicts or needs not addressed with current course options, she said. All classes would meet national and state standards.

Students without Internet or computers will be provided with them, Heyerdahl said. A local education guide will be appointed to oversee the program and make sure all students are meeting their goals and expectations.

The board still needs to adopt policies regarding the virtual school, Heyerdahl said. She hopes to review Rice Lake's policies to get a better understanding of how their virtual school is operated.

• Discussed a potential problem with class sizes at the elementary schools.

Frank Norton, Hillside Elementary principal, presented updated enrollment numbers to the board showing possible overflowing classes during the 2009-10 school year.

For example, Starr Elementary has four kindergarten classes with 22 students each. When those students advance to first grade, with only three teachers, class sizes would increase to 29 or 30 students per class.

Hillside has the potential to have class sizes of 33 students or more next year if staff isn't shifted among the grades, Norton said.

Veilleux said he isn't concerned with the numbers because he knows it's possible to shift staff around.

Some grades have small class sizes and the district could condense those classes and shift staff to a different grade, he said.

• Discussed the new middle school (current high school) renovations.

Much of the remodeling will the in the front of the building, said Doug Hatch, middle school principal.

Plans include an overhaul of the kitchen and cafeteria, as well as moving the main entrance south so that students enter near the main office, Hatch said.

The bathrooms near the gym and to the east of the gym will be completely gutted, he said.

Other improvements include upgrading the electrical and heating systems, installing new lights and ceiling tile.

There are no planned renovations to the music or theater areas, he said.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to start July 15, 2010 with the end date being June 15, 2011.

• Approved three new classes offered through the high school -- advanced drawing, AP statistics and a freshman family and consumer education class.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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