New charter school close to landing facility

Rocket Academy could use a church as temporary or long-term site, or one of multiple locations

THE NEXT MEETING of the Governance Board of Cedar Grove-Belgium School District’s charter school, the Rocket Academy, might be held at its likely future location, First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which is next to the middle and elementary school. Press file photo


Ozaukee Press staff

After looking far and wide across the land encompassing the Cedar Grove-Belgium School District for a building to house a new charter school, a place may have been found right next to campus.

The district last week was close to inking a financial agreement to buy First Evangelical Presbyterian Church next to the middle and elementary schools.

“My goal would be to have next month’s Governance Board meeting there,” Supt. Chad Brakke told the board on Jan. 26.

The charter school, called the Rocket Academy, will focus on technical education and is slated to open this fall. It hopes to attract students from across the area, including from other districts. Students may sign up to attend the school from Tuesday, Feb. 7, through April 29.

The board at its last December meeting approved starting classes in the high school, but the church opens a new opportunity.

Rocket Academy Director David Friend has already checked out the church and how it might work for the school, Brakke said.

Having the academy next to the district’s three schools would be advantageous, he said.

“It will be close to campus, when you talk about all those shared services. It will have its own identity, its own spot, yet be close enough to our office here,” Brakke said.

“That’s a nice development and might work out really well.”

The board supported the idea of housing the school in the church, at least to start.

Governance Board President Mike Dietrich, vice president of ATS-LAB Midwest, which provides science and technical education materials, asked if the church would be a long-term solution or a stopgap until another facility is found.

Brakke said it could be either.

“The church might be an answer for a year or two, or it just might be one campus and we have another campus,” he said.

The academy is continuing its search for other buildings within the district. Brakke mentioned a possibility in the newly forming tax incremental district in Cedar Grove and spots in Belgium the board has been working on.

“We are looking to partner with anyone in the district for facilities,” Brakke said.

Board member Jeff Grunewald, Lakeshore Technical College dean of applied technology and economic development, likes the idea of putting the academy in the church, as well as its location.

“One of the things that’s really intriguing about the church property right by the school is it takes away a lot of transportation concerns, and it also allows people who are here the ability to leave school but still be close to all the services. It has its own identity and will help draw,” he said.

“I think that’s a really big win, plus being tucked in by all the other schools everyone from kindergarten on up will be able to see that and ask questions. It’s like free advertising to help it grow.”

Just having a location is a relief for Friend. The academy has to spend money from a startup grant from the state within a bumped-up time frame but it had no place to store equipment.

“We have a spot where we can put things and start setting up,” Dietrich said.

Another advantage, Brakke said, is that the school would be near the district garage and it might be able to use a van for travel instead of buying one of its own right away.

Cedar Grove-Belgium School District residents and the School Board approved buying the church and lot for $70,000 this month.

The district also finds the property an attractive area to expand its elementary school playground, help with bus traffic and water retention. It tried to buy a strip of land months ago, but the church turned that offer down and later asked if the district wanted the entire lot and building.

Brakke said he found some other good news that may help the academy. The transcript from Gov. Tony Evers’ State of the State address last week had a paragraph about putting in another $100 million into the Workforce Innovation Grant program.

The academy applied for but didn’t receive a $2 million Workforce Innovation Grant last year.

“We could try for that grant again,” Brakke said. “It could help to upgrade our facility.”

In other news, the board accepted the expected resignations of Brakke and District Director of Business Services Tera Rogers. The two will still continue to attend meetings and provide assistance.

It approved the addition of two new members, Mike Wolfe, owner of Claerbout Furniture in Cedar Grove, and Bill Callahan, who has an associate’s degree in heating, ventilation and air conditioning and works for Milwaukee-based mechanical contractor J.M. Brennan. He is a 1999 graduate of Cedar Grove-Belgium High School.

Brakke got the idea to start a charter school when he was principal of Saukville Elementary School a few years ago. A Port Washington High School technical education teacher told him Charter Steel had been asking for a welding academy to train its employees.

Brakke thought that was a good idea, and he contacted Lakeshore Technical College about offering high school students college credit.

Brakke talked to other industry professionals and developed a plan to create a charter school that would teach teens the trades and feed the need for employees in those fields while also serving as a regional training center for companies from Sheboygan to Milwaukee.

A board of governance — essentially the school board for the academy — was formed from a group of supporters.

The academy is focused on technical education with the goal of filling holes in the employment market and the providing training required for those jobs.

Programming will focus on computer numerical controlled machining, welding, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and maintenance technician skills.

Students graduating from the academy would have a Lakeshore Technical College certificate, apprenticeship experience and a work ethic proficiency certificate. Some would even earn technical diplomas.

The school is open to juniors and seniors from any district.

A meeting in September drew more than 30 industry leaders who are behind the school’s concept.

A parent meeting in November drew about a dozen families who are interested in enrolling their children.

The academy received a noncompetitive grant for $800,000 from the State Department of Instruction in June 2022, but that money isn’t allowed to be used for a facility.



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