Big things expected for charter school

Riveredge director says proposed co-op with NOSD getting enthusiastic response
Ozaukee Press Staff

A new charter school at Riveredge Nature Center inched closer to reality last week as the Town of Saukville Plan Commission looked at rezoning a portion of the center, including its visitor center.

The Riveredge Outdoor Learning Elementary School, or ROLES, is expected to  begin operating through the Northern Ozaukee School District this fall with an enrollment of 68 to 72 students in kindergarten, first and second grades plus a combined third/fourth grade class, Riveredge Executive Director Jessica Jens told the commission.

The school would utilize the nature center property as a year-round outdoor classroom.  Ultimately, enrollment would top out at between 99 and 108 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, Jens said.

Jens told the commission that the district has already received 25 completed applications for this fall.

Four of those applications are from families that live in the Northern Ozaukee School District. The rest of the applications are from families living in nine different districts that have applied through the state’s open enrollment program. The open enrollment period began Feb. 4 and runs through April 30.

If more students apply than can be accommodated, students will be chosen by lottery, Jens said.

About 40 acres of the nature center, including its visitor center, must be rezoned from its current parks designation to institutional for the charter school. Jens said plans also call for eventually building an education center on the land.

ROLES will be the first outdoor school in southeast Wisconsin and one of just a few in the state, Jens said.

ROLES will be a tuition-free public school that follows the NOSD calendar, and its students will take state standardized tests. The school will be an independent organization led by a governance council and will be financially self-sustaining without need for fundraising. It will receive state aid.

Riveredge already has a popular 4K program that it operates in partnership with the Kettle Moraine YMCA and the West Bend School District. In addition, the center holds summer camps and other outdoor activities that model how the new school might operate.

Interest in the new school has been strong, according to Jens, who said families from 30 different school districts have expressed interest in sending their children to ROLES.

Jens said there already is interest in forming a middle school that follows the outdoor classroom model, but she said if that happens it won’t be at the nature center.

“We want to keep it small and not compete with other school districts,” Jens said. “We want to provide development opportunities for other teachers and inspire districts in the region and the state. If the demand is so great, it’s a real call to action.”

Jens said the Sheboygan YMCA has already introduced the outdoor classroom concept in its 4K program.

Information sessions on the school are scheduled  to be held from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 23, and 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12.

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The Plan Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed rezoning when it meets in March.



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