June 19, 2013 - Ortonville- When one door closes, another opens.
Mary Wilcox was disappointed when the Brandon School Board voted in April to decline an offer to purchase the vacant Sherman building for use as a charter school. Instead, the building will be demolished in November.
However, Wilcox, president of Better Choice Development, Inc., believes she may now have an even better opportunity to open a charter school in the community.
Wilcox and Better Choice Development board members have been in "conversations" with Hillside Bible Church to rent space at the church located at 173 N. Church St. in the village.
"It's perfect," said Wilcox. "They have a gymnasium! And the classrooms— there wouldn't be much to do to prepare it for a school. They have 32,000 or 35,000 square feet—a ridiculous amount of building space. Part of it was recently remodeled, it's beautiful."
Wilcox adds that she believes everything happens for a reason—a reference to the Brandon School Board's decision to demolish the former Sherman Lifelong Learning Center rather than accept a $100,000 offer to purchase. School board officials didn't believe the purchase would be good for the district, nor did they believe the building was appropriate for students due to poor conditions.
Shortly after the decision, Wilcox and members of the Better Choice Development board met with Hillside Pastor Kevin Shorkey and other church members to discuss using church space for Kindergarten through fifth grade classes.
"They have shown interest," Shorkey confirmed, but added, "We are so early in the process we don't know if there will be a process. We love our community and if it would help, we would love to help and encourage them… There is a whole lot of stuff that has to happen before we talk about achievable."
The process would include a building inspection, selection of curriculum to meet state common core standards, and obtaining an authorizer—a college or university that would sponsor the North Oakland Charter Academy and oversee the school. Once this checklist is completed, American Charter Educational Services (ACES) will write a grant proposal and submit it to the state on behalf of North Oakland Charter Academy by Aug. 23.
Grants applied for would provide $100,000 for planning a charter school and $100,000 for implementation. Grant funds can't be used on the building itself, so Wilcox said the Better Choice Development groups will be holding numerous fundraisers and seeking donations from local businesses.
Wilcox hopes to open the North Oakland Charter Academy in the fall of 2014. If the school can open in the church building, she is planning two classrooms per grade, with 18-20 kids per class. The charter school would receive a state foundation allowance of approximately $7,000 per-pupil. Like other public schools, charter school teachers must be state certified.
About 90 percent of the parents at Ortonville Montessori School, where Wilcox is director, have expressed an interest to her in having their children enrolled at North Oakland Charter Academy. Ortonville Montessori currently has 47 students in preschool and kindergarten. Those children come from areas including Goodrich, Clarkston, and Lapeer.
"I'm excited," Wilcox said. "It's overwhelming, but we have a lot of support."
Wilcox said her understanding is the congregation has been extremely positive, however, if the plans to use the church do not work out, the Better Choice Development Board is considering construction of a building in Ortonville or using other vacant buildings.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville