This September, students from 53 schools came together to create a new class at Seven Oaks Classical School, a charter school in Ellestville, Indiana.
After sending in a proposal for authorization with Grace College in 2015, Seven Oaks opened its doors to students Sept. 6.
Though charter schools are a form of public education, they consider themselves a space for innovative learning, starting with early education, said Stephen Shipp, headmaster at Seven Oaks.
“You could say we go after excellence,” Shipp said. “Intellectual excellence, and excellence of character.”
He said this is the school’s first year of operation, following four years of work to get it authorized. He said it started as most charter schools do, with local parents looking to offer another option in public education.
“They began the long road of drafting the charter application and going through all the steps that have to be gone through to get to the point we’re at now,” he said. “Grace College signed on as the authorizer.”
Grace College currently authorizes three schools, with Seven Oaks Classical School being its newest addition.
Lorraine Bingham, academic support specialist at Grace College, said the school received Seven Oaks Classical School’s proposal in 2015. The proposals can be anywhere between 700 and 1,000 pages.
She said the college reviews these proposals thoroughly over a series of internal reviews and interviews with the organizing school board for the school.
The college takes the information it gathers about the proposal and goes through yet another process with the internal review committee at Grace College to make a recommendation to proceed. Only then can a school be authorized with the college as a charter school.
“The interesting thing about Seven Oaks was that it was a classical education model,” Bingham said. “That was one of the many things about them that intrigued Grace College.”
Charter and classical schools are a form of public school, intended to be public schools of innovation, Shipp said. The school has an open enrollment policy and is tuition free.
“You might say they are laboratories of reform to try out different paths to improvement,” Shipp said. “They can then be pushed out to a wider audience to perhaps conventional public schools.”
He said they typically do this with fewer funds, receiving on average two-thirds of the funding of other public schools. He said another way they innovate is to see what can be done in public education with less money.
“We offer the best education we can in what we have to live under,” Shipp said.
He said the school has 162 students enrolled for the school’s first year, from kindergarten to eighth grade. He said they hope to add on one grade each year with the goal of having 700 students when they become a K-12 school.
He said they focus on teaching classical languages, using books and returning to basic teaching principles.
“Classical schools are a little more old-fashioned,” Shipp said. “Teachers are expected to be the ‘sage on the stage.’ There’s an emphasis on student-centered learning, active forms of learning that constantly engage the minds of students.”
He said a challenge of remaining innovative while still keeping up with the state’s expectations can be in working to create innovative classes that may not be on the state’s approved course list.
When he worked in Texas with charter schools, he tried to bring a logic course to one of the schools, only to find it was not on the state-approved course list, he said.
He said they had to go through an extra process to add the innovative course to the course list for the state. But he said this friction is worth it in the end.
“Most people who get into the charter school education system really believe in the power of the education,” Shipp said. “We appreciate that this accountability is important, and there is a public trust given, as we use public dollars to educate children.”
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