Mequon business owner planning private high school based on Hillsdale College curriculum

Christian-based private high school in the works in Milwaukee suburbs

Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.
Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. eandersk (CC BY 2.0)

A Mequon business owner, whose application to start a publicly funded charter school was denied, is planning to open a private high school in the northern Milwaukee suburbs using curriculum from the Christian conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Cheryle Rebholz, who opened the boutique Mequon indoor shooting range, Bear Arms, in 2017 and owns Faces II beauty salon in Mequon, said in a post the school will have freedom to “operate autonomously and educate and equip our children without the hindrance of government oversight.”

Rebholz said as a Mequon resident and former school board member, she watched test scores decline. And as a business owner, she has seen young adults try to apply for jobs and not have the skills necessary. If she is successful in opening her school, which she plans to call NorthShore Classical Academy, it will focus on teaching students what they need to be successful after graduation, she said.

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“A lot of people were coming to me and seeing the same thing people in business, people in higher ed. and with all my experience from the board of higher ed, which was a great training ground, I decided to look into this and restore the four pathways,” Rebholz said.

Rebholz was one of four candidates in a Republican-backed effort in November 2021 to unseat four members of the Mequon-Thiensville school board. The incumbents won by double-digit margins, despite Ozaukee County being a typically red voting bloc.

Following the loss, Rebholz announced plans for NorthShore Classical Academy, a public charter school that would have started with programs for children from 4K through ninth grade and eventually include high school. NorthShore Classical’s curriculum would have been based on Hillsdale College’s curriculum.

Hillsdale College’s K-12 curriculum focuses on four core subjects: literature, history, science and math. Art and music, physical education and ancient and foreign languages is also taught, according to the college’s website.

Its mission is “to serve the under-served pathways” and offers four pathways for students to make career choices: college preparation, career technical education, military leadership and entrepreneurship. The mission also includes restoring academic achievement and the full engagement of parents and the community in the operation of the school.

Rebholz’s proposal was denied in late December, so now she’s moving forward on her own.

Rebholz is in the process of developing new material and raising money with the hopes of starting the school in 2024. If not 2024, she says she’ll do it in 2025.

“If we are unable to secure the funds, then our community will be forced to settle for the government public school system that statistics show us are failing our students,” she wrote on the site.

Rebholz said she wants to offer college-prep, military leadership and entrepreneurship. Students would go to school four days a week and then work at a local business the fifth day. She said students would also be lined up with jobs during the summer.

“It’s all about real world experience, and that’s how you get employed,” Rebholz said.

Hillsdale College President, Larry Arnn, headed former president Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission. Last year, Hillsdale College released a “1776 Curriculum” as a counter to the New York Times’ 1619 Project and its corresponding K-12 curriculum.

“Essentially these schools are started by very conservative families with the help of Hillsdale College,” said Carol Burris, executive director with the New York-based Network for Public Education. “What we’ve found is they gravitate towards communities with a predominately white population, tend to have very few students who receive free or reduced-priced lunch and essentially try to attract parents who are very conservative who buy into some of the accusations against the public school system.”

Rebholz’s website includes a chart from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction showing a decline in English proficiency from 2017 to 2021 in five northern Milwaukee suburban schools and a decline in math proficiency in four schools. According to state data, the Mequon-Thiensville School District’s test scores significantly exceed expectations.

Wisconsin education officials said in September standardized test data from this spring shows signs of recovery after significant declines in English and math proficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

English language arts proficiency went up 3.5 percentage points from the previous year, while math proficiency increased by 4.2 percentage points. But both proficiency levels remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

If successful, NorthShore Classical Academy will serve grades 9-12 and will be the first private high school in Ozaukee County, according to its website. But it wouldn’t be the first Hillsdale school in Wisconsin. Hillsdale has a member school in Oconomowoc, the Lake Country Classical Academy.

“They’re popping up all over the country,” Burris said. “And what we’re seeing is the people starting these schools don’t have a background in education. They are a lot of ideologues, and they really believe that they can save kids from the public school system.”