A new public charter school is under construction in Solon Springs.

The Solon Springs School District plans to launch Eagle’s Academy, a free, public charter school that will immerse middle and high school students in place-based education, in Fall 2022.

District officials learned in June that they had been approved for a five-year Wisconsin Charter School Program grant of up to $800,625 for Eagle’s Academy.

The Solon Springs School Board hired a charter school planning year coordinator, Brittany Hager, at its July 26 meeting using grant funding. Hager will work 20 hours per week for 47 weeks and earn approximately $26,000.

“You couldn’t find anyone better,” said Solon Springs District Administrator Frank Helquist.

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Hager is the director of Hayward’s Northern Waters Environmental School, which she wrote the grant for.

“There’s so many details that go with opening a charter school, and she comes to us with some great experience, so she’s going to really be a good partner on our admin team so we can hit the ground running,” said Solon Springs Principal Holly Jones.

Solon Springs has a track record of charter school success. A free, public Montessori charter school for students in 4K through sixth grade, Eagle’s Wings, opened in Fall 2019 and has seen rapid growth.

Jones presented enrollment numbers for the 2021-2022 school year to the board July 26. It showed elementary students who chose the Montessori school outnumbered those in the traditional, or legacy, classroom, 98 to 65. Another five elementary students were enrolled in distance learning through the Montessori school.

The small district in northwest Wisconsin began offering a virtual charter school in 2018, as well.

“That was great to have established when we were surprised with COVID, because while a lot of schools were struggling, we had a really great, established virtual program,” Jones said.

Numbers from the board meeting indicated 47 middle school students and 71 high school students have enrolled for in-person classes at Solon Springs in the 2021-2022 school year. Eight elementary students and 16 middle and high school students have enrolled in the school’s virtual charter program.

Public charter schools like Eagle’s Wings and Eagle’s Academy don’t take funding from the district.

“The kids who are local youngsters, resident kids, they’re in our school whether they’re in a traditional school or now one of our three charters,” Helquist said. “It keeps students in our district because of the choices. It then attracts students from other school districts through open enrollment. And then, what we are finding is when people are looking at where to move to, they’re coming to Solon Springs.”

He said part of the impetus for proposing the new charter school came from Montessori parents and students who were asking “What’s next?”

Eagle’s Academy charter school will be aimed at meeting the needs of students from both legacy and Montessori backgrounds, he said. The mission of the new charter school is to embrace and immerse students in the local environment, heritage, culture, experiences and opportunities, emphasizing active participation in the community. That will form the foundation for interdisciplinary learning in subjects across the curriculum.

The move will broaden the district's educational offerings.

"It really comes down to individualized choice and conversations parents have with their kids," Jones said. "We’re so excited about it."

Where the new Eagles Academy will be housed is one of the things being scrutinized during the planning process.

“Is on-campus the best location or, you know what, maybe there’s a great spot in our community as well,” Jones said. “Our enrollment is rising, which is an awesome problem to have, so we’re seeing where that goes.”

The district ended the 2020-2021 school year with 303 students. Current enrollments for the coming school year are already at 311.