The number of charter schools in Iowa could grow from eight to nine if a small group of educators succeeds in their effort to open a new school in downtown Cedar Rapids. The idea of a charter school came to teacher Gretchen Price when she got fed up with all the faculty innovations she says never seemed to make it into the classroom.
“We kind of operate on an educational system that continues an industrial revolution philosophy, where the idea that the teacher stands in front of the room and lectures students. The students are receptacles for information, there’s very little critical thinking involved,” Price says. Price and her organization — known as the Downtown School group — have submitted a proposal to open a charter school in downtown Cedar Rapids.
If approved, the school would be one of the first of its kind in the community, and could draw students from both the Cedar Rapids and Linn-Mar school districts. “The charter laws in the United States as they stand allow a group of people to get together and say, you know, this doesn’t work. And we want to make some very influential changes all at once, put it together, think very thoughtfully about what that would look like, plop it down ready to go,” Price explains.
The application process is a long and complicated one, particularly in Iowa, where charter schools must submit a fully developed curriculum before getting any initial approval. Linn-Mar Superintendent Katie Mullholland says this proposal still has a lot of gaps to fill.
“It takes quite a complex and developed structure to have what happens every day for kids look like it’s effortless,” Mullholland says, “So I would have to say this stage, I still continue to have a lot of questions, and the central question is: how is this different from the innovations that we are working on in our own schools?”
Cedar Rapids Superintendent Dave Benson says he’s cautious about the experimental nature of the proposed school. “The issue of sustainability is critical. And that’s sustainability of instruction, finance. And it goes along with my concern about experimenting, and saying we don’t experiment,” Benson says. The Downtown School group hopes to submit its application to the state in December. If approved, the school could be open as early as the 2012-2013 school year.