WMU News

New charter school in Battle Creek approved by WMU Board

Dec. 15, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- A proposed charter school in Battle Creek took another step toward reality today when the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees voted to grant it a provisional charter.

The school, to be called the Battle Creek Area Learning Center, will serve middle and high school students who have not been successful in the traditional school setting. It is the first public school academy the University has authorized since WMU trustees voted last year to allow the University to become a chartering body.

The Battle Creek Area Learning Center fits the University's approach to chartering schools by working cooperatively with public schools to provide new services that currently are not being offered. That philosophy is part of a position statement presented to the Board when trustees voted on Dec. 11, 1998, to become an authorizing body for charter school academies.

The position statement was developed with the input of area public school superintendents and pledges not to erode support for public schools.

"I'm really pleased, because I think this matches well the intent and purpose that we developed as we went into the charter school business," says Frank Rapley, dean of the WMU College of Education. "It's a real pleasure to bring this particular proposal to the board because it does carry out the idea of a consortia of public and non-public schools, a community college, local human service agencies and Western Michigan University, all working together on an effort to provide an alternative program that doesn't exist in the Battle Creek area."

If all goes according to plan, the school could open in fall 2000. School supporters are hoping state lawmakers will vote to raise the cap on the number of charter schools the law allows universities to charter. That 150-school cap already has been reached, but lawmakers failed to raise the cap before adjourning for the holidays.

Rapley says the proposed Battle Creek school also might be able to go forward if another charter school already covered under the cap doesn't go ahead or an existing school fails or closes.

"The recommendation President Floyd has made to the Board of Trustees is a provisional charter," Rapley says. "One of the conditions that has to be satisfied to be able to grant it is that there is one available. At this point, there's not.

"But of the 150 that have been granted, not all of the charters have been implemented, some may not be renewed and some may expire. Therefore, we need to submit an application to the state so if one becomes available we'll be among the first few that might be ready to receive it."

Rapley says the issue of raising the state-imposed cap also will likely come up in the next legislative session and may be extended the next time around.

"So we're going to continue planning with our partner, the Battle Creek Area Learning Center," Rapley says, "because there's obviously lots of work that has to be done if the school would open as early as the fall of 2000."

The new school is designed to meet the needs of students in grades seven through 12 that are not being addressed in a traditional school setting. According to Calhoun County school statistics, there are about 600 students annually who become disengaged with traditional school programs.

At-risk students have long been a concern of educators across the nation. In the greater Battle Creek area, where the dropout rate is 7 percent, it is estimated more than 500 young people fail to complete high school and become gainfully employed.

Though many factors contribute to this problem, a prominent one is a failure of the student to benefit from a traditional school experience. Such students tend to survive through the elementary years, but fall dangerously behind when they enter junior high and high school in grades seven to nine and often drop out by age 17.

Many are not problem students or in trouble with authorities, but are underachievers who need additional support to graduate and become successful learners. Often they are children of "children" and do not receive the parental support needed for success in school.

The center will serve about 500 students. It will be operated by a governing board approved by the University and supported by the Battle Creek Area Educators' Task Force.

Member schools include Battle Creek Christian School, Battle Creek Public Schools, Family Altar Christian School, Harper Creek Community Schools, Lakeview Schools, Pennfield Schools, Battle Creek Academy, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, the Calhoun Intermediate School District and Kellogg Community College. Prospective service providers include Calhoun Area Technology Center, Starr Commonwealth, Calhoun County Juvenile Court, Summit Pointe, Junior Achievement of South Central Michigan, Kellogg Community College and the WMU College of Education

The school will occupy existing buildings in the Battle Creek area, including Kellogg Community College and Calhoun Area Technology Center. To allow for more individualized attention, class sizes will be smaller than those in traditional school settings. A parenting program will help parents provide guidance and support student learning.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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