Wednesday, November 24, 2010

MG 21 Replies to Mayor's Ideas

I received this letter from Rebecca Fox-Blair responding to some of the ideas floated by Mayor Kahl recently.  Peter Sobol has also posted it on his blog. Since I posted the original letter and since I am on the MG 21 Board, I thought I should post the letter in its entirety rather than just a link to Peter's blog.

[begin letter]
Craig Gerlach, Superintendent, Monona Grove School District

Susan Fox, President, Monona Grove School Board

November 23, 2010

Craig and Susan:

We write to address issues concerning the future location of MG21, the Monona Grove Liberal Arts Charter School for the21st Century.

As you know, Monona Mayor Robb Kahl recently proposed moving MG21 out of our current location in Nichols School and into space now occupied by the Monona Senior Center in the bottom floor of the Monona Community Center. The Monona Grove School Board briefly addressed the issue at its November meeting.

We have deep reservations about this proposal. We do not think it would provide an adequate learning environment for our students, nor do we think it is in the best long-term interests of our charter school.

(Some background that might be helpful: There seems to be confusion about the identity of our school. The Monona Grove Alternative School ended its charter with the district and the State of Wisconsin on June 30, 2010. The Monona Grove Liberal Arts Charter School for the 21st Century is newly chartered and opened its doors on September 2, 2010 at Nichols School. MG21 currently serves 25 students in grades 10-12 who have not had success in the traditional high school. Students apply to attend this school. MG21 is not the same as the MGHS EXCEL program, which is also housed at Nichols in a separate location from MG21.)

Among our concerns are the following:

 The space currently provided by the school district for MG21 in Nichols School is ideal for the needs of our students, and our long-term plans for MG21. We now operate as a Project-Based Learning (PBL) school, which requires more space than the previous alternative high school. In particular, we now offer students independent work stations, with individual computer terminals, to replicate the college and work environment our graduates will encounter when they leave MG21. We have two work station areas, totaling 28 computer areas and cubicles, in MG21 – one occupying the computer lab adjacent to the old library, and a larger area occupying roughly half of the former library space. We also have an area set aside in the library for large-group instruction and lectures, as well as the use of two classrooms directly across the hall. Current square footage of MG21 in Nichols School totals approximately 5,140 square feet. We also have access to the gymnasium at Nichols School for recreational and physical education use by our students, and potential use of the Nichols School multi-purpose room should our program grow in enrollment in future years.

In contrast, the space at the Senior Center is considerably smaller than what we have now (roughly 2,600 square feet), and not at all adequate for the current PBL-based approach of our school. The senior center space lacks adequate room for our individualized computer work stations, and there is inadequate instructional space for our academic classes. Our ability to carry out our PBL-based instructional program – the cornerstone of MG21’s educational approach, and one funded in part by a recent $175,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction – would be severely compromised with a move to the Senior Center.

 Moving to the Senior Center risks the potential for growth in MG21’s enrollment. Our school will always remain a school geared toward Monona Grove high school students not finding success within the traditional program offered at the Monona Grove High School. But we also envision MG21 becoming a school of choice both within the MG school district, and for students from neighboring districts, attracted to our PBL-based instructional program and our emphasis on developing 21st Century learning skills. Already MG21 is generating student revenue to the district through enrollment of students contracted by a neighboring district. The space at the Senior Center provides little if any room for growth in MG21. We are not even convinced we could adequately educate our current student population of 25 students in that space; we would have to examine closely our current instructional program, to see if we could maintain our current enrollment, if forced to move into the Senior Center.

 The Community Center is in the heart of Monona, and thus is quite busy, with people using the building seven days a week, from early-morning hours into the evening. We are concerned this could be a counter-productive learning environment for our students. The programs offered at the Monona Community Center are considerably different than the needs of our charter school, and the many and varied uses of the community center do not strike us as compatible with the learning needs of our students.

 We have significant concerns for our computers and work stations, along with classroom and curricular materials, should the city follow through on plans to rent MG21 school space by outside groups during the summer months. Our school program and space is not designed to be used as a rental facility during the summer months.

 We also have concerns about access and egress to the community center is it relates to housing students in a school. As you well know, the school district has taken significant steps to upgrade safety measures at our schools. The Monona Community Center has several access points; issues of security and access to MG21, should it be forced to move to the current Senior Center, would have to be addressed, and could lead to diminished access to the community center.

 The cost to relocate MG21 should also be considered. Because we are a project based learning school, we require extensive computer cabling, and wiring to support this.

 Finally, we would need to work closely with the school board and city officials to address both the short- and long-term occupancy of the Senior Center space if forced to re-locate there. How long could MG21 count on remaining there? Will the terms of MG21’s occupancy of the space be subject to a contract between the city and school district? How would routine, day-to-day maintenance issues at the school be addressed?

Although we recognize the school district is facing budgetary and facility challenges, we have significant concerns about MG21 being used to help alleviate them by moving our program to the Monona Senior Center. We believe that such a move is not in the beneficial to our students, and is not in the best long-term interests of our school or this school district. We look forward to working with you on a solution that will best serve the needs of all interested parties.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Rebecca Fox-Blair, MG21 Executive Director

William McDonald, MG21 Faculty

[end letter]

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