All-boys charter school idea draws strong interest
Brooke LaMere has been raising her 9-year-old son, Roger, without a father figure. The fourth-grader attends Cherry Valley Elementary School, and LaMere wants her son to have role models to look up to. When she heard Sigma Beta Leadership Charter School was in the works, she immediately signed the petition through the Rockford Charter Schools Initiative Web site to show her support.
The school would be open to boys in sixth through 12th grades and would have a fall 2010 open date — in time for Roger to begin sixth grade and be in the school’s first sixth-grade class.
It would be open to all young men in Rockford — no matter race or background. The college-prep curriculum would place high expectations on students and would teach students to value education.
The Rockford School Board has already approved three charter schools — Legacy Academy of Excellence and Galapagos Charter School-Rockford are slated to open this fall. CICS Rockford Charter School, the proposed school from Chicago International Charter School, is slated to open in fall 2010.
So far, the Sigma Beta school is an idea; no official proposal has come from Patrick Hardy, who would be the school’s chief executive officer, but it’s in the works. Hardy is a former Auburn High School and Ellis Arts Academy administrator. So far, organizers are still working to gain support. Hardy declined to comment.
Signatures aren’t required to submit an application, but they show the School Board that school organizers have been out in the community and have earned support, said Laurie Preece, the volunteer executive director for RCSI.
“To me, it would be huge, not only for my situation,” LaMere said, “but for so many local children.”
She’s noticed that when kids get into trouble, it’s usually during junior high and high school. She likes the idea of having a school that would focus on structure and the value of education. That kind of background would also be attractive to colleges, LaMere said, since it could prove Sigma Beta’s students are already used to structure, she said.
“It’s an opportunity that lots of kids wouldn’t have otherwise,” LaMere said.
'Children's interests at heart'
Rockford resident Larry Woods knows Hardy from Hardy’s work at Auburn. Woods also is a Rockford School District substitute teacher and was a volunteer at Ellis when Hardy was there.
“He has the children’s interests at heart,” Woods said.
Woods also follows the thinking that boys and girls learn differently — boys are often more energetic and can’t sit all day in a classroom.
He says educators don't always understand that some students come from unstable homes.
“They’re fighting an uphill battle,” Woods said. “A lot of these kids are missing male role models. That’s why a lot of them gravitate toward the gangs.”
He’s hoping the school is established in time for his son Derrick, who is now a sophomore, to attend for his senior year.
“It would help him become more focused,” Woods said.
Rockford’s first charter school
Legacy Academy of Excellence is set to open this fall at the former Evergreen School.
Barbara Forte, chief education officer for CompEd, couldn’t offer a specific number of students enrolled in the school, but she said they’re at least two-thirds of the way to the 400-student enrollment goal.
They’ve also added the student application to their Web site, so parents can access that without attending an enrollment session.
“We still want to have as many opportunities as possible to really engage with the parents,” Forte said.
Officials also are working on writing grants for the new school.
The lower-than-expected enrollment numbers aren’t cause for concern, said Carlos Perez, director of public policy for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. It’s ambitious for a school to assume full enrollment during its first year, Perez said. A less-than-full enrollment is fairly normal, he said, and it’s still early in the year for parents to enroll their children in a choice school.
Right now is the time parents usually just start to look, Perez said, because enrollment usually peaks in the summer.
Especially when developing a new school, parents often wait to enroll their children until after the school establishes credibility. Parents often base their school choice on word-of-mouth, knowing a friend or family member who attends the school, he said.
Students entering grades K-2 and their siblings in grades 3-5 who attended the February enrollment sessions are scheduled to receive acceptance letters and registration in the next week.
Galapagos Charter School-Rockford has already received about 60 or 70 applications, said Galapagos executive director and co-founder Michael Lane.
The school was approved March 17, and officials have already begun teacher recruitment.
The site for Galapagos hasn’t been announced, Lane said, but he’s expecting once it is, more applications will be submitted. Enrollment sessions will be planned soon, he said.
If a child applies for the school, there’s still no obligation until actual registration, Lane said, so it’s best to apply now. He’s encouraging teachers to apply for positions at the school, too.
“This is the best time to look into both of those,” he said. “This is the time to move forward with trying to contact Galapagos.”
CICS Rockford is holding information sessions about its school. Officials held their first board meeting and formed a School Board. Plans are in the works for marketing and after-school programs, said Brad Roos, executive director for Zion Development Corp. Zion and CICS have partnered for the school, which will be at Patriots Gateway Center.
“We’re all at a jog right now,” said Roos, who was named the board’s treasurer. “We’re not running; we don’t need to run yet.”
Although the school has another year before it opens, officials are still working quickly to configure the school.
Cathy Bayer can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or (815) 987-1395.
President Barack Obama recently asked states to lift the cap on the number of charter schools each state can allow during an education policy speech.
State law says Illinois can have up to 60 charters. Chicago’s legal limit is 30, and it has met that. Chicago’s collar counties have a limit of 15 charter schools, and everything else in the state is considered downstate, including Rockford. Downstate has a limit of 15 charters.