Judy Kujoth: Dual-language middle school needs flexibility of a charter

Judy Kujoth, via a kind reader’s email:

In the spring of 2010, nearly 50 children will comprise the first graduating class of the Nuestro Mundo Community School on Madison’s East Side.
I am the proud parent of a daughter who will be among them.
My husband and I have spent the past five years marveling as she has acquired a second language, conquered challenging curricula and embraced friends from a variety of races and ethnicities. We eagerly anticipate the years to come as her love for languages and diversity continue to blossom.
But like many other parents, we are very worried about what the next stage of her academic journey will look like.
Nuestro Mundo is a charter school that has applied innovative teaching practices within a dual-language immersion framework. It is in its fifth year of offering elementary school students a dual-immersion curriculum in Spanish and English.
Kindergartners enter Nuestro Mundo as either native Spanish or native English speakers. By fifth grade, the goal is for all students to be proficient in both languages and at least on par, academically, with their peers at other schools. The skills they have cultivated need to continue being nurtured.

Unfortunately, charter schools and the Madison School District have mostly been “oil & water”. A few years ago, a group of parents & citizens tried to start an arts oriented charter – The Studio School. Read more here.
Every organization has its challenges and charters are certainly not perfect. However, it is more likely that Madison will see K-12 innovation with a diffused governance model, than if we continue the current very top down approach and move toward one size fits all curriculum. It will be interesting to see what the recent open enrollment numbers look like for Madison. Finally, a Chicago teacher on “magnet schools“.

The problem is that there is no dual-language middle school for Nuestro Mundo students to transition into.
Madison School District recently stated it is amenable to creating a dual-language immersion program for middle school students. But it is unclear if the district will allow it to be a charter school.
Nuestro Mundo, Inc., the nonprofit group that holds the charter agreement with the Madison School District for Nuestro Mundo Community School, has been hard at work for three years developing plans for a charter middle school, which would focus on integrating dual-language immersion with project-based learning.
Creating a charter school will have many benefits. The law affords charters greater flexibility to create curricula and measure progress. Students in these schools often have higher rates of achievement because educators have flexibility to design teaching methods that appeal to the needs of each student and to change modalities when they aren’t working without being constrained by traditional district practices.
Charters are also eligible for federal funds that are not available to the school district unless it authorizes the charter. The funding is administered through the state Department of Public Instruction and supports planning and implementation of new charters.
If Nuestro Mundo Inc. is allowed to create a secondary charter school, it will be eligible for a series of grants that would bring an estimated $1.1 million into the district over six years. Awarding these grants to a charter reduces the possibility that taxpayers will be asked to support a program.
Since 2004, Nuestro Mundo, Inc. has established itself as the dual-language immersion expert in Madison. We intend to remain viable partners with the Madison School District, sharing a common goal of providing top-notch education to our children, while celebrating our diverse community.
Nuestro Mundo, Inc. hopes to present our proposal to the School Board in March, allowing them time to honor our request prior to the grant submission deadline of April 15.
We need your help. Please contact the School Board and let them know that charter schools in Madison
work. Ask them to support a new charter at the middle school level. Tell them how important it is for our community to continue promoting biliteracy and bilingualism through innovative teaching methods.
Implore them to seek alternatives with the potential for significant amounts of federal funding — without which, we will be forced to create less effective programs.
Our children deserve this chance for continued success.
Kujoth, of Madison, is vice chair of Nuestro Mundo, Inc.