A group of educators and parents at Sears Elementary School is preparing an application to start a new elementary charter school in Kenai.
The school, tentatively called the Kaleidoscope School of the Arts and Sciences, would build on existing magnet classroom programs already in existence at Sears.
This fall, Sears Elementary introduced two magnet classrooms: the Discovery program, a second-grade class that uses science themes to guide lessons, and the Kaleidoscope program, a first- and second-grade multiage class that integrates art and music with traditional lessons.
Principal Mick Wykis said the programs have been immensely popular and successful. However, he told a group of parents Thursday night that budget cuts in the district may not allow the programs to continue next year.
"We won't be able to maintain (the magnet classes) at least that's what we're anticipating because of the budget," he said.
The charter school idea is a way to continue the practice of integrating lessons with science and art in a different fashion, he said.
In theory, the charter school would be housed within Sears Elementary School, but it would be a separate entity. The school would be open to students in kindergarten through second grade, with the possibility of a third-grade class, as well.
According to the preliminary idea for the charter, the school would combine the current magnet classroom concepts by centering all lessons on science and the arts, using the philosophy that kids learn best through hands-on practice.
It most likely would be open to 75 to 100 students in its first year with room for future growth written into the charter. Current magnet classroom students likely would be grandfathered into the charter school, and other applicants from all over the central Kenai Peninsula would be chosen by lottery.
Wykis told parents at Thursday's meeting that he believes Sears Elementary provides outstanding programs already. However, he said, the charter school would offer parents an option of a different approach to curriculum.
While classes would differ from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's standard curriculum, Wykis said students still would be taught to Alaska standards and would be required to take state-mandated assessment tests.
"Charter schools can ask for a waiver from the tests," Wykis said. "But we believe this school should be assessed the same (as others in the state). It would give us the opportunity to teach how we believe, with the hands-on approach that's been so exciting ... but (students) would still take the tests."
"We believe our kids can do just as well," added Kelli Stroh, a teacher in the current Kaleidoscope classroom.
The approximately 20 parents at the meeting said they would be interested in putting their child in the proposed charter school and several had ideas for how to shape the charter.
That's just what Wykis said he was looking for. At present, Wykis and teachers in the program are developing ideas for the charter, but an academic policy committee will have to be formed to finalize the application.
Interested parents are invited to another informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sears on the possible charter, and an academic policy committee is expected to be formed in the coming week.
After that, the charter will be finalized, and Wykis said he hopes to present it to the school board at its Feb. 2 meeting. If the charter is approved at that time, it will go to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the state school board at its March meeting. Approval at that time would allow the charter school to open in the fall.
Anyone interested in more information about the charter school idea or interested in participating in the development of the charter is invited to contact Wykis by phone at 283-4826 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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