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Two charter school operators get grants — even though CPS hasn’t OKed any new charters

Bill MelindGates. File Photo

Bill and Melinda Gates. File Photo

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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:08PM

Two new charter school operators received grant money to set up shop in Chicago in time for the next school year, though Chicago Public School has yet to approve any new school charters.

Foundations College Prep and Intrinsic Schools, both founded by veterans of the corporate world, won grants of up to $450,000 from Next Generation Learning Challenges, a school initiative funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, Next Generation announced Wednesday.

The charter groups, who say theyplan to open schools in Chicago for grades 6 to 12 by September 2013, were among 13 grant winners nationwide for developing new school models aimed at preparing students for college.

They still face a large hurdle: Chicago Public Schools hasn’t yet green-lighted new charters, nor has it scheduled public hearings on the groups that have applied.

“We have not approved any new charters, and don’t plan to discuss until that process is complete,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said. She could not pinpoint an approval date.

Next Generation program director Elina Alayeva said the selection committee wanted to put startup money into the hands of “quality models and quality leaders” in time to plan for a 2013 opening.

“We’re totally aware they haven’t received authorization yet, and we’re making a bet,” she said.

Foundations College Prep founder Micki O’Neil, a former investment banker who until recently evaluated charter school performance for New Schools for Chicago, remains hopeful her application will be approved by the School Board.

“It is in their hands,” she said. “We feel very confident that we had a very strong proposal,” she said.

How CPS can be promising in its Call for Quality Schools plan to open more charters while downsizing its buildings is something some 30 aldermen have questioned, demanding the City Council Education Committee hold a public hearing to explore. CPS officials have said they’ll be “right-sizing” the district that has 200,000 fewer children than seats.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who drafted a resolution, said Wednesday that a hearing is planned but not yet scheduled. “Movement toward charter schools without any reflective approach and analysis is just wrong,” he said.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said he didn’t know who’d been recommended for a newcharter but continued that a foundation wouldn’t likely hand out money to just anyone.

“I would suspect the application process vetted for that,” Broy said.

Other national charter operators have applied to open schools in Chicago, too, he said. Once CPS makes a decision, he said “then we’ll know who’s coming to town.”

Founded by a former investment banker, Foundations College Prep plans to open a school for poor students, ideally in Roseland, O’Neil said, that prepares everyone for college with techniques like mimicking university class structures.

Locations won’t be chosen until after the new charters are determined, she said.

O’Neil holds a joint Masters of Business Administration-Masters of Public Policy from the University of Chicago.

Until recently, O’Neil worked for New Schools for Chicago — the former Renaissance Schools Fund — where she evaluated charter schools and helped determine which ones the organization would invest in.

The charter hopefuls win $150,000 up front, and up to $300,000 in matching funds as they raise their own money, according to Next Generation.

“This is a really crucial point to really ensure we can develop the right infrastructure up front,” O’Neil said.

Intrinsic Schools will focus on what Next Generation calls “adaptive digital content, multimedia content, small group instruction, group projects and independent work.”

Intrinsic was founded by Melissa Zaikos, a Harvard business school grad and former Deloitte management consultant, who served as an elementaryschools chief in the city’s Pershing Network in 2011 and 2012, after being a supervisor for CPS Autonomous Management & Performance Schools from 2005 to 2011. She’s a graduate of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, according to online biographies.

Intrinsic already placed online ads looking for master teachers and a principal for fall 2013.

“With both a lean school staffing model and (Charter Management Organization), Intrinsic will be sustainable and scalable, planning to serve 3,000 students across five schools over the next five years,” its proposal read.

Contributing: Rosalind Rossi

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