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African-centered charter school to open in Appleton

Appleton Area School District partnering with African Heritage Inc. on new charter

Colorful drawings and photographs are displayed on a wall.
Art that second-grader L.B. created during virtual school is hung on the wall at her home Thursday, March 17, 2022. Angela Major/WPR

The Appleton Area School District is partnering with African Heritage Inc. to establish The Ọmọladé Academy, an African-centered charter school.

The tuition-free academy will be open to all Appleton students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade in the fall of 2024. The school will focus on providing a “holistic educational experience that celebrates the cultural heritage of African descendants.”

It’s the first new charter school to open in the Appleton district in a decade.

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“School culture is not necessarily their own culture. That’s what they have to learn,” African Heritage President Juliet Ebiere Cole told the Appleton School Board on Nov. 27. “But how can we include their culture? How can we include who they are?”

Appleton School District Superintendent Greg Hartjes said the Ọmọladé Academy will meet the various needs of students.

“They’re passionate people that want to bring together a different learning model,” Hartjes said. “We’ve had several partnerships with African Heritage Inc. over the years, so we know them well, we trust their expertise in their areas, and we trust our expertise on the education side.”

African Heritage, Inc., an Appleton-based non-profit, first approached the school district in fall 2022 about serving as the authorizer for a new charter school.

At that time, the state was not accepting new charter school grant requests. This summer, African Heritage was awarded a five-year, $1.7 million charter school grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

On Monday, the Appleton school board approved the Ọmọladé Academy charter school, which translates to “Child of the Crown” in the west African Yoruba language. When it opens this fall, the school will be the district’s 14th charter school.

The Appleton Area School District has about 15,000 students. About 5 percent are Black or African-American, according to the latest state report card.

The last charter school to open was Appleton Technical Academy for high school students in 2014. Other charter schools include a Montessori school, a leadership academy, Tesla Engineering Charter, and Renaissance School for the Arts.

Hartjes said the Ọmọladé Academy will be located in a district elementary school that has several empty classrooms. Over the next several weeks, planning for the school will be completed, Hartjes said.

“As the authorizer, we hire the staff, the teachers, the principal — they are Appleton Area School District employees,” Hartjes said. “We oversee the curriculum, the instruction and the assessments.”

The Ọmọladé Academy has plans to eventually expand to fifth grade. Organizers say in addition to teaching an African-centered core curriculum, students will also be taught a STREEAM curriculum, integrating science, technology, reading, engineering, entrepreneurship, arts and math.

Hartjes said it’s too early to know how many students will enroll in the academy. Some of the district’s charter schools have low enrollments, yet some have waiting lists, he said.

“We do know that there are students and student populations that are not finding success in our district,” Hartjes said. “And so, you know, maybe with this different educational model, they’re going to find more success. Even if that’s 20 students next year, or 40 students next year, we think it’s worth the effort to give this a try for five years and see where it goes.”