Director chosen to lead new charter school

But Rocket Academy is looking for a building after not receiving Workforce Innovation Grant
Ozaukee Press staff

The Rocket Academy Governance Board on Tuesday tapped a Kiel High School teacher to lead the new charter school focusing on technical education.

The Cedar Grove-Belgium School Board on Wednesday was expected to approve the hiring of David Friend to be the school’s first director.

Friend has taught agriculture at Kiel High since 1997 and brings a decorated resume to the school.

He has received awards for Teacher of the Year, Mentor of the Year and Program of the Year from the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators, Teacher of the Year from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and in 2020 received a Kohl Fellowship.

Friend holds a master’s degree in business administration from Milwaukee School of Engineering and a master’s degree in agriculture and consumer science and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and agriculture education, both from West Virginia University.

Friend also has a K-12 administrative license, Cedar Grove-Belgium Supt. Chad Brakke said.

“He was really excited when he saw this pop up ... and he really expressed that excitement and engagement,” Governance Board member Mike McCabe said.

“He’s built programs like he will have to build this program.”

“I didn’t know him when he came in, obviously, but when he left you knew he was the right fit,” District Business Manager Tera Rogers said.

Friend was selected from a pool of five applicants. Four were from different area school districts, Brakke said.

“We had some really strong quality across the board,” he said.

Some applicants had stronger technical backgrounds, but Brakke said Friend’s resume is a better match for the director position.

The position could be seen as a little scary, he said, since it is brand new and the school is being created from the ground up.

“Your success is based on you putting it together,” Brakke said of the director role.

The Governance Board approved Friend for the job, 5-0. Brakke and Rogers, both Cedar Grove-Belgium School District officials, are not allowed to vote since Rocket Academy received a federal charter school grant through the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. They may remain as nonvoting board members.

In addition, Governance Board meetings are now required to be noticed as public meetings, just like school, village and town boards, city councils and subcommittees, per the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law.

The board also needs to adopt policies and procedures. It has decided to continue to meet on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

While the school received an $800,000 noncompetitive federal grant allowing it to hire a director, it did not get a competitive Workforce Innovation Grant for about $2 million in two rounds of awards, sending plans to lease or buy a building for the school back to the drawing board.

The board had targeted a former Wester Electric building in Belgium, now owned by Krier Foods, but buying it is now off the table and the facility won’t be available for lease until fall 2024.

Rocket Academy plans to open fall 2023.

“Right now we don’t have a location,” Brakke said. “The goal would still be to do something in Belgium.”

DPI officials told Brakke none of the $800,000 grant is allowed to go toward leasing a building for the school.

Brakke said he has been in discussions with industry professionals but doesn’t have a solution yet.

The school would need about 10,000 square feet to start, enough to run a computer numerical controlled program.

In an emergency, Brakke said, Cedar Grove-Belgium High School could house the charter school for one year in its technical education space, which is being remodeled as part of a $21 million referendum voters approved in April.

The location is key for the director to determine Rocket Academy’s curriculum, Governance Board member Shelia Schetter, dean of advanced manufacturing, agriculture automotive and energy at Lakeshore Technical College, said.

“They’re going to need a space to visualize that,” she said.

Time is a factor. Students will sign up for charter school classes beginning in February.

Schetter is pursuing a $650,000 grant through the National Science Foundation she would earmark about $200,000 of that amount for equipment and the rest for staffing, including training. The application deadline is October with awards announced in spring.

“It’s not a given, but we’ll try,” she said.

In addition, board member Mike Dietrich, vice president of LAB Midwest, wrote a $50,000 Wisconsin Fast Forward grant for the academy.

Brakke said that would bring the total to nearly $1 million for equipment.

After receiving the $800,000 federal grant, Brakke said, he learned that the money may be spent over three years instead of the initial plan of four or five. After one year of planning, that allows for more than $500,000 of equipment purchases in the second year.

“We can really get some equipment up front. That was kind of nice,” he said.

Brakke said the school has applied for nonprofit status. That, along with receiving the grant and hiring a director, is good news.

“The positive things is it’s a go,” Brakke said.

A meeting with industry partners, when a pitch for a location may be made, is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 27. The location is to be determined.



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