Last week, One City Schools made the difficult decision to suspend its 9th and 10th grades classes after one semester, citing a shortage of teachers both at their school and nationally while lamenting the emotional toll of the pandemic and stresses in the education system.
“This is the most disappointing thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life in education,” Kaleem Caire, founder and CEO of One City Schools, tells Madison365. “I’ve had to fire people. I’ve had to suspend kids. I’ve never had to let young people and their parents know that they could no longer be at the school that they loved and wanted to be at. But we have to do it because we don’t have the staff.”
One City broke the news to families last Thursday and to the community on Friday mentioning the school was closing because they “don’t have adequate staff to provide the quality education that their students deserve.”
“We have 62 kids who are impacted … ninth and 10th graders. We lost teachers. Without teachers we can’t provide a program,” Caire says. “We had teachers that were teaching out of their discipline, their areas of expertise. We were doubling up and they were looking tired already. We felt like there was no way we could get through a regular school year that ends in June, never mind [One City’s] longer school year that ends in July.
“That’s when we said, ‘Let’s pull the plug and allow these kids before the semester break to get their credits for this semester and enroll in their home schools.'”
The situation had become so dire that Caire was teaching math himself for a while.
“We can’t allow children to be in a situation like this. As a public charter school, we have a lot of accountability on us,” Caire says. “At a public school, you can fail kids for 100 years and nobody is going to try and shut you down … a public charter school they will.”
Each student and family will now have a case worker assigned to help ensure a smooth transition to the educational placement of the family’s choice.
“One City has alerted every school district that our families reside in, asking for their assistance in making this transition in the best way possible,” Caire says. “Madison Metropolitan School District, as well as other surrounding districts, have committed to working closely with us to ensure scholars and families have the support they need.”
Most of the students will be going to Madison school district schools; the others will attend schools in the greater Madison area.
“So we have assigned some case managers to each student and our goal is to try to get the kids in the best situations in the public schools,” Caire says. “We’re working with the public school districts on that. We reached out to every public school superintendent and everybody was supportive of us.”
Since One City’s announcement on the closing of its high school, Madison Teachers Inc. released a statement demanding that One City, a public charter school, should refund $472,464 back to Madison’s Public Schools, even though the students have already attended One City for half a school year.
Caire wrote in a letter to the Capital Times that One City will not count the 62 students in this year’s enrollment count, which determines state funding, and therefore will not receive that state funding.
Caire says that their focus right now is on the displaced students.
“We want to get our kids enrolled in schools in a cohort because they’ve created a community amongst themselves [here,]” he says. “I mean, we’ve seen so much change in these kids and so much improvement in these students and their attitudes. They are not perfect, but their attitudes and behavior are much better and we could see it through the whole year and by next year, these kids will be doing great.
“Academically, our job was to get them up to speed. Eighty percent of them are behind two years or more and 60 percent are behind five years or more,” Caire continues. “I have kids in my prep year math class — ninth and 10th graders — who are at a second and third-grade level. We have thousands of kids in Madison alone and definitely in Dane County who are so far behind academically. That’s where our [One City] Scholars Academy could really help.”
Caire notes that there is still much work to do at One City, located at 1707 W. Broadway, in the former WPS Health Solutions building that has been completely renovated, adding, “there are still 66 sixth graders who are still with us. We are going to focus our efforts and resources on continuing and strengthening our high-quality 4K-6 grade educational program.”
One City’s long-term plan for its high school, known as its Prep Academy, will be to add 7th grade next year, 8th grade the following year, and re-open high school with 9th grade in 2025.
Maria Dyslin, One City’s current elementary school principal, will now serve as the principal and leader of One City’s kindergarten through 6th grades for the remainder of the current school year.
“The teachers in our elementary school are in it to win it and I am thankful for them. We will continue to build and gain momentum. We are in it for the long haul,” Caire says.