One City’s Grade Cut Students Transfer to MMSD

Jonathan Buscher

On Thursday, January 5, One City Preparatory Academy, a private Madison charter school, announced that it would be closing its 9th and 10th-grade

programs mid-year due to staffing shortages. Although One City is a smaller school, the 2022-2023 school year saw the rapid expansion of opportunities offered to families, including four grade levels: 5th grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, and 10th grade. This, however, proved to be an issue as, by January, all five high school-level core subject teachers had left their positions. According to Gail Wiseman, One City’s Vice President of External Relations, in a Cap Times article,  “We have had an exodus of teachers since the beginning of this year, and we do not have core subject teachers. I would say overall our teachers were facing the same significant challenges that teachers across the country are facing.” Wiseman also claims that the problem is accentuated by the fact that One City is a new high school. 

Along with One City’s closing of its early high school grades, the plan for expansion of the facility was also updated. Rather than the previously held schedule of adding 7th and 11th grade next year, with 12th grade coming later, One City will have a slower rollout, adding one school grade per year, with 7th grade scheduled to start for the 2023-2024 school year. This is only one of the many major changes that One City has gone through over the past few years, after being founded by Kaleem Caire in 2015 as the preschool One City Early Learning Center. In 2018, it expanded into a charter school with 4 and 5k grade options, along with moving locations several times. Eventually, One City found a permanent residence at 1707 W. Broadway during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with announcing in June of 2022 that it would be offering a 4-day work-week for teachers. 

In terms of an impact on MMSD, of the around 60 total students currently enrolled in One City’s high school grades, 51 of those individuals live within the lines of MMSD. Since the majority are likely to need to enter MMSD schools following One City’s high school closure on January 20th, Carlton Jenkins and other MMSD officials responded quickly. On the night of Thursday, January 5th, only a few hours after One City’s announcement, administrators met to discuss an action plan with One City. The next morning, an emergency enrollment period was opened for those 51 displaced students as early as 9:00 a.m., and every student has caseworkers and counselors working from both One City and MMSD schools to ensure a smooth educational transition. 

 Although the January 20th date for transition was chosen to align with the end of One City Students’ semester, there has been a large question raised about enrollment finances. The state of Wisconsin counts students in attendance at high schools two times a year: on the third Friday of September and the second Friday of January. Since the 20th is the third Friday of January, One City is slated to get all $472,464 from the state for the 51 students enrolled in both semesters. However, with a transfer of those students for the second semester, MMSD would be missing out on the $236,232 that would be received if the transfer students were enrolled at the time of the count. As was stated by Caire, One City is working with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to sort out this issue, and the DPI was still unclear as of January 11th on what would occur with the funds. 

Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) at a protest during winter (Paul McMahon)

Madison Teachers Inc. had significant concerns with this, calling for the return of the full $472,464 for the entire year to MMSD schools. The reasoning, the city teacher union argued, was that public schools also face teaching issues, yet are unable to shut down when they are short-staffed. They also noted the difficult reality that charter schools are able to send an influx of students to public schools if shut down, with little accountability. Part of this blame, as issued in the statement by Madison Teachers Inc., was assigned to the Wisconsin Legislature, which the union says is building private education “on the backs of public schools,” which are currently underfunded. 

MMSD on the other hand has offered little comment on the situation with finances. District spokesperson Tim Lemonds wrote that “As we continue to determine the financial impact the closure at One City Schools may have on the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), our current focus is to ensure the families impacted by this decision have all the support and resources they need to ensure a smooth and welcoming experience as they transition to the MMSD family.” Right now, MMSD’s main goal appears to be sorting out transfer students’ situations and ensuring that they are integrated into city public schools as seamlessly as possible.