Prairie Crossing Charter School has been educating students since 1999 — an exhilarating period of time for a new educational experiment!
Our story actually began in 1996, when the Illinois General Assembly passed a groundbreaking charter school law that enabled parents, teachers, or community members who wanted to improve education to "take responsible risks" and start free, public schools themselves. These schools were to "create new, innovative and more flexible ways of educating children."
A group of young parents in the new community of Prairie Crossing, along with the community's developers, George and Victoria Ranney, began meeting every Saturday morning to plan a new charter school. This group continued to meet for over a year, figuring out how children might learn academic subjects and citizenship from exploring this place with its prairies, lakes and farm. They enlisted excellent help from educational experts and drafted a charter that met with accolades from parents and educators alike. Unfortunately, it also met with resistance from opposing parties.
This charter was finally accepted by the Illinois State Board of Education, which oversees Prairie Crossing Charter School to this day. In 1999, the first kindergarteners, first and second graders marched expectantly into the historic Wright Schoolhouse as the school bell rang.
As soon as those children were old enough to take state tests, they began to achieve high test scores. But initial opposition to the charter still remained. Five years later, when it was time to apply for a re-charter, it took a busload of Prairie Crossing Charter Schools parents traveling to Springfield, along with support from the lead editorial in the Chicago Tribune ("Attacking a school that works"), to help convince the state Board of Education to grant the re-charter and allow Prairie Crossing Charter School to continue.
Much of the school's early history is about the struggle for physical space, as two new kindergarten classes enrolled each year. First, it rented the Wright Schoolhouse, then the Kennicott building, then the Byron Colby Barn, where a classroom had to be dismantled every Friday to make room for community events on the weekend. Classes were held in a nearby church and in temporary trailers. Because Illinois law does not provide charter schools with money for capital projects, expansion almost stalled. Then an imaginative and bold group of parents on the Board of Directors decided to purchase the Wright Schoolhouse, the Kennicott building, and the surrounding land, using that property as security for financing two new classroom buildings and a gym. By their action, and tireless fundraising by the parents, the school's buildings are now complete, with the Comstock Building winning awards for energy efficiency and environmental design.
While the enrollment was growing toward 392, the curriculum began evolving towards the goals of the charter. Some students wrote journals from special places outdoors; others learned history by experiencing Lewis and Clark's winter camp in the woods. Still others helped raise vegetables for farm-to-table lunches. Independent culminating projects completed by the oldest students focused on citizenship and the environment.
Prairie Crossing Charter School has experienced changes in leadership and the Board of Directors. All the while, thanks to the teachers, devoted parents and the original, farsighted charter, the students have been highly motivated to perform. The school is now positioned for many more years of learning together — and perhaps even greater accomplishment and success!