In an uncommon atmosphere of conciliation, The Boys and Girls Club of Murray on Wednesday presented a proposal to launch a charter school within the Murray School District.
The charter school's purpose, as outlined in very preliminary form to the Murray Board of Education, would be to serve students in the Murray area who struggle with absenteeism, social or emotional issues, or behavior or family problems.Unlike the heated, sometimes adversarial debates going on within other districts, Wednesday's meeting underscored the commitment of both board members and charter school proponents to work together. The Boys and Girls Club does not need the consent of the district to submit its application for a charter school to the state but has vowed not to proceed unless it has the district's support.
"I think this might be an example of how a school district and a charter school can work together. Some other districts have had a somewhat adversarial relationship. But they (The Boys and Girls Club) want to work in conjunction with Murray School District," said Superintendent Richard Tranter. "They will only do it if the district is supportive and feels it would best serve the students."
The proposed charter school would follow the model of the Club's already-successful Summit program, which currently serves seventh- and eighth-graders. The new school would expand that to include sixth grade, and possibly extend from grades 5-9.
"Simply put, we would like to serve more kids," said Summit teacher-counselor Ellen Betit, who is also an active proponent of the charter school. "The Summit program has served 60 to 65 kids in the last three years. But, there are many children in grades six through eight who really need additional services beyond the regular classroom."
The new school would set its ceiling at 100 students per year. It would emphasize service learning, career exploration, social skills development, values clarification, and increased parental involvement, in addition to following the State's core curriculum.
The increased latitude to discuss the sensitive issues many students face is one of the main reasons the Club wants to start a charter school. It would also allow teachers in neighborhood schools to be more effective in their efforts with "mainstream" children, said Betit, while giving the struggling student tools to transition successfully back into the classroom and society.
Board members said they are aware of - and in many ways share - the concerns of many districts grappling with charter school "issues." They have watched the battle between the Utah School Boards Association and the State Board of Education over control of charter schools but have not taken an official position. Nor do they plan to, even as they consider the prospect of a charter school within their own boundaries.
"There are concerns. We're all going in a little bit blind," said board President Sherry Madsen. "But we're going to work through it as we go. We have a nice give-and-take relationship with The Boys and Girls Club, and I don't think there's the same kind of relationship in other districts."
"It's exciting," added board member Mildred Horton. "I think we need challenges. We need to be stretched. . . . The only sad thing is if we could have done these things ourselves, in our district."
That's still not out of the question, said Betit. If the club's application - due Nov. 30 - is rejected, it may still turn to the district for help. Either way, the school would be good for the community, Betit said.
"This will be a real plus for the Murray School District," added Krista Dunn, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Coordinator of the district. "They can say, `Boy, we're not going to lose this kid. We're going to refer him to a program that will address his needs, where he won't fall through the cracks.' "