Charter school considers expanding

Pedee School would reach through eighth grade

PEDEE -- Pedee Charter School is branching out.

Next year it will offer grades 4 to 7. The year after that, 4 to 8.

Currently, the country school offers grades 4 to 6.

The decision to expand came as school officials realized they were offering the same grade levels as nearby schools.

"We need to find our niche," executive director John Finkbeiner said.

"Kings Valley Charter School is only four or five miles down the road, and they already teach K-4 or 5. Bridgeport is on the other side to the north, and they already teach K-4."

That meant all three schools were competing for the same students.

"There aren't that many families out here," Finkbeiner said.

Pedee's new plan is to focus on the middle school grades, with the two other schools serving as feeder schools.

The school is looking for a teacher to handle the middle school students and be in charge of curriculum development.

Board President Fred Weisensee said he hopes to hire someone by fall.

The charter school isn't concerned yet about the cost of expanding.

"It will cost more money," Weisensee said.

"But for next year, we still have fairly substantial federal grants. After that it will depend on enrollment, and the other grants we get."

After its first year in operation, Pedee is seeing a drop in enrollment. This year, with 50 students, it was close to its building's capacity of 55. Enrollment numbers for next year aren't complete, but at this point about 35 are enrolled.

Finkbeiner sees several reasons for the decrease.

Some families are moving away. Others will attend LaCreole Middle School next year.

"This is the first year we've had sixth grade in a long time, so our current sixth-graders had the mindset that they'd be moving on to LaCreole," Finkbeiner said.

Despite the decision, late in the school year, to offer seventh grade next year, a "fairly good size number" of sixth graders plan to switch to the larger middle school, Finkbeiner said.

School officials hope to capitalize on Pedee's strengths to attract new students -- small class sizes, individual attention and a focus on natural resources and rural issues.

"We certainly dream that there may be children that would go to LaCreole, that may live in town, but because of the size of LaCreole, the parent may recognize the fact that their child might excel in a more quiet, rural setting," Finkbeiner said.

"Some students can slip through the cracks at big schools," he said. "You really can't escape where we are."

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