East Lansing's First Charter School Prepares for Fall Opening
Cole Academy, East Lansing’s first charter school is now open for tours. This according to Superintendent Brian Shaughnessy who, along with building Principal Stacey Johnson, will be at the school’s campus at 2921 E. Coleman Road on weekdays from now until the end of summer to answer questions and conduct tours of the new building.
Cole Academy has been operating in Lansing under a charter from Central Michigan University since 1995, starting out at the Early Childhood Center and growing into a K-6 elementary school. Shaughnessy has been the principal since 2011, and has overseen the addition of a gym and an art program to the regular K-6 curriculum.
I asked Shaughnessy why Cole wanted to expand into East Lansing and he explained that they acquired the land at the “perfect time,” before property values in the Norther Tier began to rise. He said the new building is located in “kind of a weird spot,” which has an East Lansing address, but which is also in Clinton County, and the Lansing School District.
He added they don’t expect a huge influx of students from the East Lansing School District, but expects that the school will draw children from the Groesbeck neighborhood on the Eastside of Lansing, and the Hawk Nest neighborhood which is primarily within the Lansing School District.
The principal showed off the new building with obvious pride, explaining that they had come in $100,000 under budget. The surplus will be used to install a playground and upgrade the school’s landscaping. He emphasized that Cole is one of the 20% of Michigan Charter schools that are non-profit, and that they do not belong to any of the State charter school organizations.
Only one wing of classrooms is currently furnished, and it will house kindergartners, first and second graders for the 2018-2019 school year. There are three kindergarten classrooms to allow Cole’s preferred a 20:2 student to adult ratio for kindergarten, with one teacher and a paraprofessional. For higher grades Cole has two classrooms per grade and a 30:2 ratio of students to adults.
Shaughnessy pointed out where future classroom wings are planned, explaining that they will build out those classrooms at the rate of one additional grade level per year. Eventually the East Lansing campus will house kindergarten through eighth grade. Because Cole’s Lansing campus doesn’t have a student body yet there is no “per student” allocation coming from the State, so the new campus has been built with budget in mind. Some fixtures, including chairs, shelves and books have been donated by other area schools.
Shaughnessy (above), a retired New York Police officer who is on his second career, described some of the economies that Cole uses to save money. These include contracting out their school lunch program to the Okemos Public Schools and using an after hours janitorial service instead of having a custodian in the school during the day. If something gets messed up during the day “we clean it up,” he told me.
Some of the school’s savings have allowed them to invest in teacher training and continuing education. Cole has “paid $300,000 for 9 teachers in 5 years for professional development” according to Shaughnessy. He also says Cole’s teachers have also received higher yearly raises than teachers in the surrounding districts.
Shaughnessy told me his school has “virtually no discipline issues,” and that attendance and truancy are taken very seriously. As far as test scores Shaughnessy says that his goal is not to be competitive with Lansing schools, but rather with East Lansing schools. He challenges anyone who is interested to come to the school and see the kindergarten classrooms where students are “reading fluently by February.”