One City Schools Opens Its Charter School
with a Kindergarten Class
Pursuing New Ways to Teach
|Above Left: Kaleem Caire, founder & CEO of One CitySchools
Above: The staff of One City Schools on Fisher Street
create a charter school under the auspices of the Urban League called Madison Prep.
While Madison Prep never came to realization, Caire was undeterred in creating his
vision of what public education should look like. When Child Development Inc.’s early
childhood faced bankruptcy, Caire pretty much took it over, changed the name to One City
Early Childhood, raised over $1 million to renovate the facility and set about to create his
For the past three years, One City Early Learning has been in operation with Marlo Mielke
managing it as the center director.
In 2015, the state of Wisconsin amended Wisconsin’s charter school rules that created an
Office of Educational Opportunity within UW Systems that was authorized to charter schools in school districts with over 25,000 students, namely the Madison
Metropolitan School District as the city of Milwaukee had its own authorizers.
A window of opportunity was created for Caire and he seized on the opportunity to get create and get authorized the One City Schools charter school with
authorization to create a K-6 school. Caire hired Bryan Grau to be its principal. Grau and Deborah Gil Casado had been the moving force behind the creation of the
Nuestro Mundo charter school
Both the early childhood center — which is not a part of the charter school — and the 5K classes, which are a part of the charter school are now open for business.
On August 31st, the staff gathered at the Fisher Street location — where all instruction is being held — for staff training. It’s a diverse staff and there was a lot of
interest from educators in being part of the team.
“We had a lot of applicants,” Caire said. “We had over 700 people apply for jobs. Over 300 of them were qualified just on paper. They went through a lot of
interviews and got us a good team. I’m happy and they are excited. They have a good disposition for the work. They are approaching it the right way. They are
excited, but taking it seriously. You can see it in the collegiality between all of them that they’ve done so well to get to know each other. They are all like, ‘Wow, I’ve
never had this experience before where someone has taken two weeks to train me, to get us to know each other and fed me and taken care of me. They’ve been
responsive to everything we need.’ We are really trying to make sure that the team is not just a great diverse team. These people feel like they are supported here
and can work together.”
Except for the 5K charter school, One City has waiting lists for the other classes. They will be at full capacity after they bring 17 more students on in the
kindergarten. For all of their classes, One City has two teachers in each class.
“We have a certified lead teacher and an assistant teacher who is full time,” Caire said. “Our lead teachers have different levels of responsibility. But our assistant
teachers are going through the same training. They are learning how to administer assessments and all of those things so that they can not only take direction from
the teacher, but can also assist them in the way that we feel that they should professionally. And we already know that two of our assistant teachers want to be
teachers and we are going to help them do that. We want to grow our own teachers too.”
One of the cornerstones of One City’s curriculum is still Anji Play, a teaching method developed in China that allows for student-driven educational discovery.
“We are deeper into Anji Play,” Caire said. “We put about $100,000 into the outdoor area including the stairwell. We’re trying to make sure that our environment that
we are providing children is really focused on deep learning and student-driven learning that Anji Play provides children in preschool. It’s really tactile. Kids are
creating their own play every day. And then they move up into the expeditionary learning. It’s a great marriage because it is still very student-driven, very deep
learning, observation, planning and challenging each other to get better in their work. That grows with the kids to the 12th grade.”
Expeditionary learning combines several academic disciplines together as students learn about a topic that interests them. It might involve math, the performing
arts, reading, science and other skill areas. Caire gave a lesson plan about bees as an example.
“It’s project-based,” Caire emphasized. “Kids are learning through projects. The kids read about bees and they dress up like bees. These are little kids. They’ll sing
about bees. We brought a taxidermist in and we brought a woman in who is a volunteer of ours. She is actually a beekeeper. She came to our school with the bees. I
was freaking out when I saw her. I was like, ‘These bees are going to be all over the school.’ She said, ‘No, no that’s not what bees do.’ She literally brought her
stuff in and the bees were hung up on this thing. A few flew off, but they flew right back. The kids got to see that. And then we took them out so that they could see
bees where they are in their natural habitat. They saw the larva of a bee and the kids were learning all of these things. And they were getting read to about bees. The
whole project orientation is getting a well-rounded understanding about bees, their habitat and their lifecycle. We’re doing it in a way where kids are interested. So
what expeditionary learning is going to help us do now is take that individualized part to the next level by giving children a framework from which to challenge
themselves even more. We’re excited.”
Rounding out the curriculum is the use of Eureka math to supplement the expeditionary learning concept.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
Ever since he was working on
school reform in the Washington,
D.C. area, Kaleem Caire has had
a vision of creating a school that
would unleash the creative force
within African American and
other students of color. When he
came back to Madison as the
CEO of the Urban League of
Greater Madison, Caire tried to
The key to reaching the students, in Caire’s view, is to keep the students
engaged in learning.
“One of the three components of expeditionary learning is mastering
knowledge and skills,” Caire said. “If kids struggle and they can’t catch up or
keep up, then they misbehave. Some children lack confidence even at 4-5-
years-old and so you have to work with them where they are. We also have a
special education coordinator. She’s in training too. She’s just not over there
doing special ed. She knows the strategies and the fundamentals about the
curriculum so that she can better help our kids who have special needs. She
can build support networks whether it’s a therapist or whatever to really help
them. The kids are still engaged in the actual curriculum.”
And it is Caire’s intent to reach every child entrusted to One City. He will not
leave any student behind.
“We will not sideline our children and we will not kick kids out,” Caire said. “I
find it ridiculous that people are kicking kids out of preschool. We have three
boys who I think are all coming back and are four-years-old now. They have all
been kicked out of other preschools. It’s about meeting them where they are.
Knowledge and skills are important. Parental development is important. It’s
about values and how you demonstrate those values in the environment. Team
work is really important.”
It’s also important to create a space for kids where they can distinguish
between positive feedback and negative criticism meant to belittle the child.
“It’s not enough for the kids to draw a picture and say, ‘Awe, that’s cute,’”
Caire said. “How can they get better? There are all kinds of kids in the
classroom. Some kids when they start to push each other to get better and
make it look like this or that or you have your imagination focused on
something, how do you get it to look as close to that as possible? Or how do
you write to go as deep as you can with your writing even if you can’t spell
well? Kids can write and they will tell you their story. How does your story get
better? How do you get more detail? Kids will ask each other questions. ‘What
about this or what about that?’ And the kids practice their writing. We’re taking
this thing to a whole another level around deep learning and student-driven
learning and team-based learning.”
Next issue: Expansion plans