When I was a kid and it was time for my parents to send me to school, there really weren’t many choices. I could go to my neighborhood public school or the parochial Catholic school in my town. Those were the choices. When it came time for my kids to “do school,” a myriad of choices presented itself. Being a teacher helped me to navigate these choices, and hopefully this article can help other parents of school-aged kids.
*Please note that the descriptions of choices in this article apply to Wisconsin and, in some cases, the Fox River Valley region of Wisconsin. Please check with sources in your state if you don’t live in Wisconsin.
In this area, most public schools systems operate on “neighborhood school” plan. Which school your child attends depends on your address. If you are new to your neighborhood, check out your local school. Stop in. Call. Ask for a tour. If you don’t know which school’s attendance area you live in, call your school district’s central office to find out. You can also get information on local schools on each district’s website. Also, ask your neighbors with kids. It’s likely their kids go to the neighborhood school, and they can tell you about it.
In Wisconsin, we also have Open Enrollment. That means that you can send your kids to other neighborhood schools in your district or you can even choose a school in another district in the state. If you would like to send your child to another neighborhood school in your district, check with the district office about procedures and policies. If you are interested in enrolling your child in another district, you can read all about that here. You should also note that if you open enroll, you will most likely have to provide your own transportation to and from that school (no bussing).
In Wisconsin, charter schools are free, public schools. Each charter school is supported by a school district. The fancy definition of a charter school can be found here. In short, they are schools created by governing (charter) boards (usually made up of district teachers and parents) who want to create a school with a different curriculum or method of teaching. The group lays out how their school will work and then the district supports them. Since they are public schools, there is no cost (tuition) for students to attend. Students can open enroll (see above) in any charter school in their district or in other districts.
In the Fox Valley, many districts have charter schools. Appleton, by far, has the most and longest running charter schools of the districts in this area. Each of these charter schools has a different philosophy, curriculum, and method of instruction, and appeals to different types of learners. There are charter schools for all grade levels, 4K-12, in Appleton. Websites for each school are located on the district’s homepage. Below is an overview by grade level.
- Appleton Bilingual School, AASD (K-6)– teaches students in both English and Spanish
- Appleton Public Montessori, AASD (4K-6) – students learn using the Montessori Method in multiage classrooms
- Classical Charter School, AASD (K-8) – the school uses Core Knowledge curriculum as its foundation
- Fox River Academy, AASD (4K-8) – an environmental school featuring hands-on learning in multiage classrooms
- New Directions Learning Community, KASD (4K-4) – individualized instruction utilizing Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop curriculum/methodology developed by Columbia University.
- Odyssey/Magellan Charter School (3-8) – a school featuring rigorous course work for gifted students
- Stephen Foster Elementary Charter (4K-6) – provides a whole child approach to learning focusing on the individual child, career development, and service learning
- Wisconsin Connections Academy – a virtual (online) school
*Note: Some of the schools above offer classes beyond grade 6. The ones listed below are exclusively for grades 6-12.*
- Appleton Career Academy (9-12) – focuses on career exploration and innovative learning
- Appleton e-school (9-12) – virtual (online) school, can be full or part time
- Appleton Technical Academy – holds classes in conjunction with Fox Valley Tech
- Kaleidoscope Academy (6-8) – a middle school that feeds the need for inquiry and student passions
- Renaissance School for the Arts (9-12) – for students who are passionate about fine arts
- Tesla Engineering Charter School (9-12) – curriculum that focuses on engineering and technology skills
- Valley New School (7-12) – students learn by creating projects on topics of their interest
Enrollment for charter schools begins in January/February. Students can apply to any charter that serves their grade level for the coming school year. If there are more students seeking enrollment than there are spots available, then students are selected by lottery. Each school works this a bit differently, so check with the school for the most accurate information. In most cases, parents need to provide transportation to and from school (no bussing).
Charter schools provide great alternatives for students who may have interest in certain topics or learn in different ways. They also offer a great opportunity for parent involvement and input via the school’s charter board.
Other area districts offer charter schools as well. You can find out about them on your district’s website.
Some districts across the state offer online schools for students in various grades. Students can learn from home (or anywhere) with these programs. These schools are also charter schools run by Wisconsin school districts. They follow open enrollment procedures to accept students (see above). Appleton has two virtual charters.
These are schools that are sponsored by religious organizations. Parents pay tuition for their children to attend these schools. Some schools in the Fox Valley area also qualify for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Under that program, families who meet certain requirements can use vouchers from the state to help pay for tuition at these schools. See the website for those details.
There are many parochial schools in our area including:
- Xavier Catholic Schools
- FVL Schools
- St. Mary Catholic Schools (TCCES)
- Kaukauna Catholic Schools
- Fox Valley Christian Academy
Check with your church if you are interested in Parochial School for your child. They can help you find a good match.
These schools are not sponsored by a religious organization and require tuition.
In WI, parents may also choose to educate their own children. There are several homeschooling groups and cooperatives in the area. The best way to investigate homeschooling is to talk to other homeschool parents.
As you can see, there are many school options in our area. One of the best ways to find out about local schools is to ask other parents. Schools will also let you come in for tours and open houses. As a parent, you know your child the best. Hopefully this article can help you navigate the world of school and make the best choice for your child.
This article is sponsored by St. Francis Xavier Catholic School System. To learn more visit: www.xaviercatholicschools.org