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CODY — A former charter school principal now working as an instructional facilitator in Meeteetse plans to establish a new school in Cody that could be open in time for the 2010 fall semester.

Michael Cox told parents and others at a Wednesday organizational meeting that the McCullough Peaks Charter Academy would follow an independent learning model aimed at struggling and gifted students.

It would rely heavily on parent-instructors, and would provide online education, tutoring and small-group instruction. The school would have no religious affiliation or focus, he said.

Charter schools offer open enrollment and receive funding through the same revenue channels as traditional public schools.

They generally offer alternative education opportunities that might not be available in other schools, enjoying greater academic freedom, while being expected to offer greater accountability to parents and the community, Cox said.

“I don’t hate my school district or my superintendent,” said Cox, who previously was a principal at charter schools in Corona and Hesperia, Calif., adding that his son will be the third generation from his family to graduate from Cody High School.

“Charter schools are just like public schools. There are some that are great and some that are not so great,” he said.

The process involves submitting an application to Bryan Monteith, superintendent for Park County School District 6. Monteith will issue an opinion on the application, and it will be considered by the district’s school board.

Some at Wednesday’s meeting said they were skeptical that the board would approve a charter school that might pull children and funds from relatively small local schools.

Critics of charter schools say they sometimes amount to attempts to establish private schools using public money.

“The money follows the child. It’s not taking money away from the public system — we are the public system. It’s just a different environment,” Cox said.

“Most charter schools do a better job and they do it with less money. It really is about choice,” he said.

Cox said teachers would be more accountable to parents and administrators at McCullough Peaks Charter Academy, which would not follow a tenure system.

“That’s one of the biggest reasons I left the traditional public school setting to go to the charter system,” he said of tenured teachers.

Cox said that teachers would be required to be state certified, students would take the same standardized tests as those given in public schools and the school would seek accreditation.

He estimated that about 40 students might sign up the first year.

Some school districts, such as Park County School District 1 in Powell, offer alternative learning environments within the established system.

The Shoshone Learning Center in Powell operates with support and cooperation from the district-run high school there, providing special instruction for about 30 advanced and at-risk students.

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Cox said he was not familiar with how Shoshone Learning Center operated and could not explain how his proposed school would be different.

Parent Sarah Mikesell Growney said she had spoken with many other local parents who were looking for additional school choices, “even if that means we have to pay. They are interested in a private school setting that is not religiously motivated.”

She was skeptical of whether the board would approve a charter school and doubted whether families with both parents working full time would have enough time to supervise students, especially younger ones.

“For kids who are in that at-risk group, this is an excellent opportunity,” said Mary Montgomery, a math teacher at Fort Washakie High School, an Internet-based charter school, with about 50 students.

Montgomery said school districts are often fearful of losing enrollment and funding to charter schools, but that many parents were pleased with the Fort Washakie program.

“Students are mostly successful. Especially if they are willing to work, they are successful” following the charter model, she said.

The Center for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group, last week released a report ranking Wyoming’s charter school law as the fourth-weakest in the country.

The group gave Wyoming’s charter school law a D, the same grade it has received for the past two years.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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