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“We don’t need to be afraid of change … we need to embrace it.” One City officially signs contract to open and operate One City Preparatory Academy


“I’m overwhelmed with joy. It’s taken 33 years … literally, that’s how long I’ve been focused on this. We had the pre-school and the elementary school and never really sure if we could get all the way … and now here we are,” Kaleem Caire, Founder and CEO of One City School, tells Madison365. “Knowing that we will have a pathway for the kids all the way through is amazing.

“I know that because the eyes are on us that friends are looking at us nationally and what we are doing and they are trying to help,” he adds. “We are going to be a catalyst for a lot of change, and that part, along with all of the people who are getting involved in this from all walks of life, just feels overwhelmingly good.”

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson talks to a third-grader in a One City classroom.
(Photo by David Dahmer)

Caire spoke to Madison365 after signing a contract with the University of Wisconsin System to open and operate One City Preparatory Academy this fall — helping him realize a lifelong dream by expanding One City to 12th grade. Special guests, including former Wisconsin Governor and outgoing University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson, looked on and spoke at the official signing before touring the One City Schools’ Pleasant T. Rowland Leadership Campus.

“When I read the statistics [back in the ’80s] that by the time young Black male students graduate from high school, 65 percent will drop out. I thought, ‘My God. And here I am the governor. If we don’t start doing something, we’re just going to start building prisons,'” Thompson told the small crowd. Thompson is considered by many to be the father of the School Choice movement in Wisconsin and is said to be considering a run for governor again. “That was the beginning of choice schools; giving parents a chance. And then I read about charter schools, and I knew that competition was good.

“I’m not taking anything away from public schools. I am a product of public schools and a lot of us are … but competition always brings out the best, I don’t care what you are,” he added.

One City Preparatory Academy (OCPA) will be a unique 6th-12th grade school that combines the features of an EL Education Network School and an early college and career model. The school will enroll students in grades 6, 9 and 10 this fall and offer a multi-disciplinary project-based curriculum in grades 6-8, an early college and career education program in grades 9-12, and eventually grow to enroll students in grades 6-12, according to a press release from One City. 

“For our kids here, we’ve told people that we are really trying to reinvent public education. We’re not trying to do a separate thing. We believe that public education needs to be reinvented for the future and it should be more customized to the needs of kids and what’s going to be available to them going forward …. they should be ready for it,” Caire told the crowd at the signing event. “And what we do here is not just mimicked by schools in urban communities, but rural communities and elsewhere, as well. Think of us as a resource for schools. We are very transparent. We’ll share anything with anybody about what they want to know about us, even if it’s not all that great.”

One City School headquarters is located at 1017 W. Broadway in Monona. 
(Photo by David Dahmer)

Students attending One City Prep will begin taking courses for college credit in 9th grade, with the potential to complete their high school diploma, associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees at accredited colleges and professional programs in Wisconsin and across the United States before they leave school. 

“When I first read about Kaleem, I knew that that guy was dedicated to do what is necessary. And I want to say ‘thank you,'” Thompson said. “It takes a heck of a lot to stand up and say, ‘I’m going to start a whole new school system’ and you have fantastic people and a great board. You have an opportunity here to set an example and not many people have that.

“I’m here today to say thank you to you and your staff and your board. You’re going to keep expanding,” he added. “You’re giving a product to children who would not have that opportunity. You’re doing things right to improve education in the Madison area.”

One City School, which is located at 1707 W. Broadway in Monona, is planning to have its first class graduating in 2025. 

“It’s a blessing to have Tommy Thompson here today. And he spent more time than he intended to. This is a special day. It’s special to be able to do this,” Caire tells Madison365. “When you give us your children, that is the greatest gift that you can give us … and that’s how we treat them … and we will not let you down. 

“We hope that people will see, at least in the context of education, that we don’t need to be afraid of change … we need to embrace it.”