With the help of a newly issued state grant, a group of Chippewa Valley parents are working with the Mondovi School District to open an innovative new school for sixth- through 12th-graders in the fall of 2020. The Anthony Acres Charter School will be housed in a former elementary school on Highway 37 between Mondovi and Eau Claire. The 37-acre rural setting will be ideal for project- and place-based learning, say members of Initiative for New Directions in Education, a grassroots group of parents who formed several years ago to create more educational options for local children.
“We’re delighted that this school is on track to open in just a little more than year for now,” said Anna Rybicki, a member of the INDE planning team. “In our region right now there aren’t a lot of alternative choices, especially for secondary students.”
“In our region right now there aren’t a lot of alternative choices, especially for secondary students.” - anna rybicki, INDE member
Last year, INDE began working with the Mondovi School District to pursue the creation of a public charter school at the Anthony School, which had been empty for several years. The Mondovi School District and its board were receptive, Rybicki said: “They knew they had the building, they knew it had fabulous grounds, so when somebody came to them with a concept they were interested in, they were ready to move forward.”
The Mondovi School Board voted in November to move forward with the project, and in February a planning team submitted a grant proposal to the state Department of Public Instruction. They were excited to learn in early June that the DPI had awarded the project a five-year, $800,000 planning grant.
Rybicki said the funds will help pay for curriculum, training, technology, and some building repairs that will help the charter school get off the ground. The school is set to open Sept. 1, 2020, with a class of sixth graders and a class of ninth graders. Under current plans, grades will be added in each successive year until the school serves students in sixth through 12th grades. Eventually, the school will have 80 to 100 students from Mondovi and across the region, INDE says.
The creation of the Anthony Acres Charter School will help the Chippewa Valley catch up to other regions of the state when it comes to public charter school options. While the Eau Claire Area School District is home to the Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School (as well as a soon-to-open virtual charter school and a Spanish language dual-immersion program) and the Augusta School District offers Wildlands School, the Chippewa Valley is otherwise “a public charter school dessert” compared with other parts of the state, which puts children in the area at a disadvantage, Rybicki said.
“We really think there’s a demand for other options in our schools,” said Tim Nordin, an INDE member who led the grant planning team. Nordin – a former teacher with a background in educational policy – said parents know that children learn in different ways. For some, traditional models work well, while others benefit from more flexibility and other educational approaches.
Two such approaches – project-based learning and place-based learning – will be built into the DNA of Anthony Acres Charter School. Project-based learning is essentially what its name suggests: an approach to education in which children work on concrete, real-world tasks that combine multiple subjects. (For example, students might learn about biology, chemistry, and business by running their own organic farm.) Likewise, according to INDE, place-based learning uses “the natural, community, and economic resources of the area to tailor content to what students interact with most.” Considering the school’s location on rural, wooded land in a farming community, this will likely mean involvement in the outdoors and agriculture.
This spring, Nordin was elected to the Eau Claire School Board, which has led him to dial back his involvement with INDE. However, he remains a supporter of the project, and is hopeful it will be one of many new public educational options in the Chippewa Valley’s future.
“Speaking as a board member, I would love to see the district offering different avenues for students so we can hit more students’ sweet spots for their best modes of learning,” Nordin said.
Many details about Anthony Acres – such as its admissions policies – still must be determined in the coming year. However, people interested in being part of the planning process are encouraged to join the Anthony Acres Community Advisory Group, which meets quarterly.
To learn more about the advisory group, Anthony Acres, and other INDE projects, visit inde-ec.org.