Natrona County might have a new comprehensive high school after all.
Educators in Oregon have completed the first step to founding a charter school in Casper, which would open in fall 2012.
The college-preparatory high school would be modeled on the Redmond Proficiency Academy and teach 300-400 students in grades nine through 12. The school does not give failing grades, but instead requires students to demonstrate knowledge of a skill before learning the next.
Wyoming only has three charter schools in operation, despite a fairly open law that does not cap the number of charters. The law limits new charters by vesting the power to approve new schools with the local school board.
The low number of charters and opportunity for federal grant money attracted the proficiency program to apply, said Michael Bremont, director of Personalized Learning Inc. and principal at Redmond Proficiency Academy.
Bremont also requested an application to open a school in Cheyenne, which attracted several possible applicants in the past year.
Charter schools are public schools that receive state and federal funding through school districts but operate independently of local school boards. Bremont and charter advocates say the schools add a no-cost option for parents.
Federal grants are another carrot for charter school programs. The U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $136 million to 12 states in August to support new charter schools.
The department invested nearly $256 million to help plan and implement charter schools, and President Obama requested an additional $54 million for 2011.
"There aren't a lot of charter options in Wyoming," Bremont said. "Every district ought to have options for students."
Natrona County already provides a lot of choices for parents, said Superintendent Joel Dvorak. The district has an open enrollment process -- a student can attend any school regardless of home address, provided there is space at the school.
"We've got such a culture of choice where we've built pretty unique models," Dvorak said.
District officials are obligated to help applicants complete the 79-page application packet designed by the state Department of Education. Applications are judged on the school's planned philosophy and methods of measuring progress.
Dvorak said district choice has prevented charters from applying in the past.
"A back-to-basics elementary school -- we have one. A collaborative school -- we have that, too," Dvorak said.
Bremont said his program is the only one of its kind in the nation and will work in Wyoming.
"We definitely feel like it's different," Bremont said. "We wouldn't be going in there if it weren't."
The school follows a university model -- classes meet twice or three times a week. Work is largely project-based and expected to be completed outside of class. State test scores demonstrate gains – the percentage of students proficient in reading jumped from 72 in eighth-grade to 98 percent after one year in the school.
"We're not adequately preparing students for success in a traditional educational system," said Bremont, former principal of several conventional high schools. "Once they get to college, it's on them."
Elective courses are offered based on student requests. Past courses include accounting and flying a plane, which were taught by professionals.
An application in a Portland suburb was denied twice by the school board for lack of community support. The Oregon Department of Education will either grant approval or uphold the local decision in the spring.
A roster of expected students and letters of support from community members must be included in the Wyoming applications.
Bremont will visit Casper in December and hopes to complete the application for approval in the spring. Once approved, the school will look for a new home, most likely in an office building.
"We don't look like a school," Bremont said. "We look like a place of business and that's how we operate."