One City Schools Opens Its Charter School
with a Kindergarten Class
Pursuing New Ways to Teach
Excellence
Abovet: Kaleem Caire, founder & CEO of
One City Schools
Outward Bound Expeditionary Learning and Eureka Math. And while IT and computers have their place in education, they aren’t a substitute for good, old-fashioned
teacher — or parent — and student interaction.

“There aren’t any computers here,” Caire observed. “The only computers are the laptops that the teachers carry. One of the teachers asked me, ‘Can we have a
laptop in the room?’ ‘Nope.’ They asked for iPads. ‘Well you can check one out in Marlo’s office. We have a few in here for you. But we don’t want the kids on
screens at all.’ And I don’t want kids on screen until kids get into fourth grade. When they get to that third grade benchmark of reading, part of that is because of how
the brain develops. Your linguistic skills really develop rapidly during that period of birth to age 8. And if you miss that period, it’s not that you can’t learn to read. It
just becomes harder. We’re focused on the hard wiring of the natural child in a natural way. And then when they get there and they are confident and they have other
behaviors and skills that are routed in the first eight years of their lives, now we can expose them to those things and do it in a way where it won’t take over their
lives.”

Modern technology can play a role in students being engaged in their roles, but Caire won’t let them be passive recipients of a world that someone else designed.

“We have academies that start from 3-5 p.m.,” Caire said. “We’re in extended day. During those periods, we have creative, performing arts academy. We have
sports and fitness academy. That’s to help the kids play soccer and hockey and learn how to skate. They are all 6-8 week immersions. We have DJ equipment in the
building. We have music making machines where we put the Apple screens up so that the kids in the academy can learn how to play music. They will learn how to
create music. We have two nice drum sets. We have Rockameen and Greg Doby helping us. Joey Banks will be involved I it. It’s all about getting the kids interested
in something and see where their passion is. We’re giving them a lot of exposure to things that mom and dad may not be able to afford. And we’re going to do it right
here.”

With the new charter obtained from UW System, Caire is now expanding into kindergarten where 75 percent of his students are currently enrolled. With the public per
student funds that One City will receive, One City is hoping to attract additional dollars to make everything affordable.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to make that lower piece go free to families or at the very least, very, very low tuition cost because we want that to be the model
statewide that we can provide free, preferably and at the very least, low-cost, high-quality preschool to all families regardless of race or income,” Caire said about
the preschool whose funding is not impacted by the charter school. “If we can do that in this state, that’s a game-changer. And if we have models on how we can
work with these children and get them ready for the future, then we can remove all of the excuses on why kids aren’t moving forward and falling into gaps and
staying in them forever.”

One City is limited in its elementary school by what the state pays the Madison Metropolitan School District and thus faces some of the same constraints that MMSD
does.

“In Wisconsin, the school districts are primarily funded through local property taxes,” Caire said. “The state has an equalization formula where based on the wealth
of your area you are in, they give you a certain amount. McFarland gets about $5,000 per child from the state whereas Madison gets roughly $2,000 from the state in
the equity formula because Madison is more property rich. The state balances it out. Some will argue that the total amount going into education isn’t enough because
the formulas don’t allow for higher rates and then whether it is equalization formula the state provides or local property taxes, I agree with that. But we also have to
fund quality. Not every school that children go to is a quality school. Everyone has to do some more work. The community has to put more money in and we have to
get better about educating kids for the future. We’re trying to be that model.”

Eventually, Caire hopes to expand to a K-12 model and expand the number of schools that One City manages to the greater Madison area and beyond. Just as the
location of future schools drives community and economic development, eventually Caire hopes that One City can have a similar impact.

“We are going to use this as research tool to see what we really need to do at this level to make sure that kids are ready by the time they get through high school,”
Caire said. “We feel the preschool is needed everywhere, And by then, we’ll have a very effective model delivering high quality early education to children. When
we go into a neighborhood, we only go into those that need us. But we want everyone to want to come there. I’ve been using the term ‘diamonds in the rough’ with
my team. Everyone is welcome here, but they have to come into the ‘hood to get it. We always have to leave our hood in order to get something great. You have to
come into the ‘hood to get this. And guess what, they are coming. Starbucks and Target are two great examples of businesses that when they go to an area, people
look at it as an increase for development. Starbucks goes where there is money or there is going to be resources. You won’t see them on E. Washington right now
because there are properties that are still being developed. But as soon as they go there, people will think the area must be pretty good. Target uses its ability to
create anchor projects where other big businesses will come in and suddenly people think that things are going to get better. Property taxes go up, but property
values go up even more. We want our schools to be that place that when we go there, people say that things are about to get better for these kids.”

The One City preschool has been in operation for three years now. And Caire feels that it has developed its students to be prepared for the next level.

“All of our kids are doing well,” Caire said. “If they’ve been here at least a year, they are all doing well. We know that last year, 89 percent of our kids were
academically ready when they left us in August of last year to go into the school district. But academically, when we looked at all of the numbers, they were all
ready. But we had one child who had some emotional disabilities and she showed those in her first few weeks of school when she knocked her teacher out. But
academically, she was ready, but we don’t count that. We say 89 percent. And this year, it was 94 percent. And now, we get to keep our kids.”
Part 2

By Jonathan Gramling

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
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 education model.
For the past three years, One City Early Learning has been in operation with Marlo Mielke managing it as
the center director.

Caire and the One City staff have put together a curriculum that utilizes components of Anji Play,
While Caire has been the driving force behind the founding and growth
of One City, he readily admits he hasn’t done it alone. It has been a
community effort.

“We need people to believe that we can create great places and
spaces for our kids, where they need it the most,” Caire said. “And we
need to stop complaining about other people not providing it to us. What
I’m trying to show people with this project is what my experience was
growing up here and being out in the world. Number one, there are good
people everywhere. We can’t look at a community, as white as Madison
is, and say, ‘These people don’t care about us.’ There are always going
to be good people who want to come and support you and partner with
you. And you have to demonstrate that what you put out in the universe
will come back to you. And so a lot of people told me not to do this
project for various reasons. None of those have come true. I believed
when I grew up here that there are good people and they will come. And
they have come in droves and they look like everyone. I’ve had Black
folks here supporting us. And they are spending their money and
volunteering. I had the brothers from Omega Psi Phi over here. Jerry
and those guys were moving stuff out of our basement. Zion City Church
has been a huge partner with us with Blackhawk Church helping out.
Mt. Zion has been a gift to us when we need space. We’re now talking
to them about having teachers park there during the day. Fountain of
Life is where we kicked off the school at. So this notion that you can’t
get communities to support us, we just have to act like we want their
help and believe that people will give it. And we have to do the hard
work to make sure that we retain it. We will not put anything mediocre
out there for these kids. It has to be great or we aren’t doing it.”

One City is a community effort. And it will continue to have to prove its
worth in future support of time and resources. Kaleem Caire appears to
be ready for the challenge.

Next issue: Expansion plans