Project Change Charter Approved
School governance board relieved, hopeful about next year.
Applause from the audience celebrated the Waukesha School Board’s unanimous approval Wedneday night of the charter contract for Project Change, a school for high school students battling drug and alcohol addiction.
For months, district staff and community members had been working to save the small school, addressing concerns raised by the School Board about the cost of the program given the small number of students enrolled.
The school’s charter contract with the school district was set to expire this month and until a contract was approved by the board, the fate of the small, specialized school was uncertain.
“I think everyone believed that this was needed, but ‘should it be a charter school?’ was one of the questions,” School Board member Joe Como said.
To answer School Board concerns, the district formed a governance board, determined plans of operations, enrollment goals and recruiting strategies, and outlined a budget. The information was shared at board committee meetings over the past week.
Eight people spoke in support of the school: parents, AODA volunteers and leaders, and a recent graduate from the school. More people filled the seats in the board room.
In all, about 25 people came to the meeting to support a school that had only four graduates this year.
“Relief, tremendous relief,” is what Sarah Justin, parent of a recent graduate, felt after the meeting.
For Denise Marisch, it was hope.
“My kid got through it. But there’s that next parent, that next family, who will be looking for a solution,” she said.
With school district approval, the school is on firmer ground to serve those students and families.
“I think that what we’re saying as a board tonight tonight is … we support this. We believe in it. And if it’s out there, let’s get the word out so we can serve more students who need serving,” School Board Member Ellen Langill said.
“I’m looking forward to hearing good things going forward.”
The next steps for the school will be getting the word out to others about the school and also implementing the plans they’ve created, according to members of the governance board.
Board members praised the new governance board for their persistence and hard work on the project.
“As we journeyed through those months, there were some very tough questions we asked. And virtually every one was answered. And this group of people pulled together and showed their passion and I believe that, if this passes, that governance board is an excellent governance board to have in place,” Como said.
Board member Steve Edlund, who was originally critical of the program because of its cost, said that with the commitment of governance board, he supported renewing the charter.
“I’m encouraged by the fact that we have a governance board who is going to take ownership in making the program work, both in student success and financially. The fact that we have a school board member keeping an eye on the charter makes me more comfortable also,” he said.
Project Change first opened in 2002 and typically serves a small number of students in two rooms rented from St. Matthias Episcopal Church. The school is for students who have just completed alcohol or drug addiction treatment. If they return to their regular schools, the students return to the same friends and environment that may have had a part in their using drugs or alcohol before, school staff said, and the relapse rate is high.
At its highest enrollment over the past 10 years, the school had seven students, also its capacity at the current location. Students are enrolled in the school for varying lengths of time, depending on need, with some staying until graduation and others just a few months. One teacher coordinates their individualized classwork.