Riveredge charter school moves closer to reality

Nature center awarded DPI grant for NOSD outdoor-classroom program that would be first in southeast Wisconsin

RIVEREDGE NATURE CENTER camp counselor Nikki Aterianus led a group of children on an outdoor exploration during a summer day camp Monday. The proposed Riveredge charter school would offer outdoor classrooms and similar activities. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

All systems seem to be go for a proposed charter school at Riveredge Nature Center after it received a $700,000 charter school planning and implementation grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The Riveredge Outdoor Learning Elementary School, or ROLES, would be authorized by the Northern Ozaukee School District with an opening planned for the 2019-2020 school year.

It will ultimately accommodate up to 99 students in kindergarten through fifth grade each year and use the nature center’s 379 acres of restored natural sanctuary in the Town of Saukville as an outdoor classroom on a year-round basis.

It will be the first such school in southeast Wisconsin, officials said.

The DPI grant was obtained through a competitive process and will help fund a year of planning and development for the new school, including hiring a lead teacher, funding support services, equipment purchases and classroom furniture, Riveredge officials said.

ROLES will be a public school and be tuition free. It will be an independent organization led by a governance council and will be financially self-sustaining without need for fundraising.

A contract between the district and Riveredge has yet to be finalized. The School Board earlier this month began a review of the contract and is scheduled to vote on the document when it next meets on Aug. 20. It will then go to Riveredge for approval.

The contract, Supt. Dave Karrels said, is modeled after a standard charter contract from DPI.

Under the contract, Karrels said the district would receive $500 per student, “whether they live in the district or no.” The district would also receive a 5% administrative fee for funds that flow through the district to the charter school.

It’s also likely the school will bring new students into the district.

The proposed school is proving to be very popular, officials said. Originally, officials forecast an initial enrollment of 30 to 40 students. But initial reaction has been so strong they already project a first-year enrollment of 60 or more, although they haven’t started accepting applications, Riveredge Executive Director Jessica Jens said.

Enrollment will be capped at 99 due to space limitations, she said. They expect to reach that number in the 2020-2021 school year.

If applications to attend the school outnumber seats available, a lottery system will be used. In future years, siblings of students already attending will be given preference, officials said.

“We don’t have any official enrollment yet,” Jens said. “But we put together an informal survey online and in social media, and in that survey we had families from 20 different districts expressing interest. We already have more families interested than we can accommodate.

“The intent is to remain a small school,” Jens said, “where what we do can influence the school system in the state of Wisconsin and serve as a resource for other school districts in outdoor learning. We don’t need a huge school to do that.”

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

The nature-based, elementary charter school would allow children to spend most of their day outside studying subjects normally taught in indoor classrooms.

There are already a handful of nature-based charter schools in Wisconsin and research indicates such programs increase creativity and learning for many children, officials say.

The Riveredge charter school would be the second for Ozaukee County, the other being Wisconsin Virtual Learning, also sponsored by the Northern Ozaukee School District.

The popularity of the school and of Riveredge itself will benefit the Northern Ozaukee School District, Karrels said.

“It will be good to partner with them from a marketing standpoint,” Karrels said. “They have a large donor base, many of whom live outside our district and are not familiar with us,” he said.

“There’s a lot of excitement for this.”


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login