Home Local News One City Schools prepares for 3rd and 4th grade expansion, open enrollment

One City Schools prepares for 3rd and 4th grade expansion, open enrollment


One City Schools has grown quite a bit since it first opened in 2015 offering preschool and 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten. This fall, they will be adding third and fourth grades for the 2021-22 school year. The open enrollment period for the tuition-free public charter elementary school on Madison’s south side begins Monday, March 1. 

“Parents that want to truly prepare their kids for college and careers and not have to worry about this achievement gap are going to come to our school,” One City Founder and CEO Kaleem Caire tells Madison365. “If they want diverse teachers and staff, they’re going to come to our school.

“We are seriously focused on these kids becoming successful and we’re not just drilling them with academics, we’re trying to inspire these kids, too, to learn and to get into various things. We’re exposing them to a variety of things,” he adds.

Kaleem Caire

One City Schools is a nonprofit operator of One City Preschool (OCP) and One City Expeditionary Elementary School (OCEES). The One City second graders will be moving to third grade during next year’s expansion, but One City will have a new 4th-grade classroom to fill. 

“In the fall we’ll be enrolling 274 students between 4K and 4th grade. That will include existing families and new families,” Marilyn Ruffin, vice president of Family and Community Initiatives with One City Schools, tells Madison365.  “Many of the second graders have been there since 4K and they will become third graders next year. So One City is especially emphasizing looking for 4th graders.”

Ruffin emphasizes that some of the things that make One City unique are its year-round school with longer school days and having two teachers in every classroom. 

Marilyn Ruffin, vice president of Family and Community Initiatives with One City Schools

“Because we have a longer school day, we incorporate extended learning academies – that’s curriculum outside of the class that many of our scholars might not be able to afford,” she says. “Things like martial arts, art, soccer, basketball, ice skating, etc. 

“Also, every day we provide breakfast, lunch and a snack. We have an awesome chef here. It’s the healthy meals program,” she adds.

One City also uses the two-generation community impact approach.

“With our two-generational family engagement program, we utilize FAST – Families And Schools Together – an 8-week program where parents get to meet other cohorts of families and realize that they are not alone in raising their child,” Ruffin says. “It helps parents get to know other parents and it helps students get to know other students in the same cohort. 

“Once that 8 weeks is over, you just see the closeness of the parents to each other and to the school,” she adds. “I always say, ‘when we enroll the students, we enroll the whole family.’ And when you enroll the whole family no one is left behind in this city called ‘One City.’”

By empowering parents, Ruffin says, they have high parent engagement at One City.  Caire agrees.

“I don’t think there is a school in Madison – private or public – that has the level of family involvement that we do,” he says. “We packed our house for events before the pandemic hit. We had to move all of our events to Madison College South.”

Scholars at One City Elementary (Photo by Hedi Rudd)

The majority of students come from the 53713 zip code on Madison’s south side, but Ruffin makes it clear that they accept anyone with a Wisconsin address.

“We have families from all over including Sun Prairie, Janesville, Verona, Boscobel, Oregon,” she says.

One City has been hosting a variety of virtual open houses this past month, including one scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight, to let the community know what it has to offer. Caire says the diversity in One City’s staff, administration and students is a key selling point.

“Too often we’re hearing, ‘We can’t hire teachers of color.’ Forty percent of our workforce are people of color. There’s no other school in Madison that can say that,” Caire says. “We have 19 African-American staff; 11 of them are in the classroom. That’s just 4K-2 [nd grade]. We’re hiring right now for next year and we expect that to grow.

“We’re the only longer-school day, longer school year public school in the state. Families don’t have to worry about after-care. There’s no cost for that,” he adds. “Our kids are learning to ice skate, they’re doing martial arts, they’re doing snowshoeing in the warmer weather, biking. We’re making school really enriching for children.”


One City Virtual Elementary School Open House will take place tonight at 6 p.m. For more information or to register, click here.