Appleton’s Charter Schools have Developed A “Wow Factor”

Kathy Walsh Nufer:

Appleton’s Board of Education hopes to maintain momentum — or what one member calls the “wow factor” — the school district has built in attracting outsiders, especially in an increasingly competitive landscape.
In tight budget times, the district’s financial health and survival depends on it.
John Mielke said the school cannot rest on its laurels.
“I think the charter schools have developed a ‘wow factor,'” Mielke said at the annual school board retreat recently. “We are a leader in the charter school movement and I think people look at what we’ve done with charters and think: ‘Other things must be interesting in that district.’ Our challenge is what’s the next ‘wow factor.’ You can’t exist on just the wow factor of charter schools. What’s the next step up?”
During the June 25-26 retreat, he and other board members learned that while many larger Wisconsin districts are losing students, Appleton, the sixth largest in the state, is an “aberration,” owed in large part to the draw of its charter schools to outsiders.
Last school year 879 students, or 6 percent of the district’s total enrollment of 15,228, open enrolled to Appleton from outside the district. A total of 617, or 70 percent who came into the district attended charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to waive state regulations to deliver their programs. Appleton offered 13 charter schools last school year, offering families choices for students interested in everything from the environment and fine arts to engineering and such approaches as Montessori, Core Knowledge and online virtual education.
By contrast, 160 students open enrolled out of the district.