Kaukauna Utilities

Public Education

Developing a Sustainable Elementary Charter School


Charter School - KaukaunaKaukauna Utilities partnered with 1000 Islands Environmental Center, and Park Community Charter School, to implement National Energy Education Development (NEED) curriculum. Kaukauna Utilities Staff provided tours, engaging demonstrations, and hands-on activities to support the NEED curriculum. This provided school children a beneficial educational experience that included education on the function and history of Kauakauna’s hydropower, a tour of a hydropower facility and other renewable energy and energy efficiency activities.  The school was recognized for its efforts by NEED as the top school in the state and was a finalist for national recognition.


Kaukauna Utilities is a municipally owned electric and water utility located in Kaukauna, WI, in what is known as the Fox River Valley.  The Fox River exits Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, Lake Winnebago, and travels northeast to Lake Michigan at Green Bay. Kaukauna Utilities owns and operates seven hydroelectric sites which provide approximately 20% of the overall load consumed by the customers in its territory.

Kaukauna Utilities celebrated its 100th year of serving customers in 2012.  Since its inception, the utility has believed in making people their highest priority. It is in this spirit of ‘value to our community through innovation’ Kaukauna Utilities leaders partnered with the local Park Elementary School to form a new learning experience called Park Community Charter School.  Utility leaders were among the initial members of the Governance Council to foster the concept and bring forward the National Energy Education Development (NEED) curriculum.


Built in 1897, Park Elementary School is located high atop one of the main streets in Kaukauna, WI.  Up until the fall of 2011, this school provided traditional elementary education to approximately 200 Kaukauna area students. During the spring of 2009, the local leadership at Park Elementary decided to differentiate the learning experience at Park Elementary and begin the process of converting the school to a publicly-funded, privately-operated charter school.  Consultants were contracted to provide experience in the conversion.  They toured the city and felt strongly a number of local entities and historical sites, most within walking distance from the school, would be great candidates for learning opportunities or partnerships.  Two major community institutions were particularly suited for this, namely Kaukauna Utilities and the 1000 Islands Nature Center.  Planning and Implementation grants were written and a Governance Council, which included Kaukauna’s general manager, developed.

During the time between inception and start-up a number of key building blocks had to be developed, namely the core curriculum and the guiding principles.  The National Energy Education Development (NEED) curriculum was chosen as the core curriculum.  A representative from NEED visited the school and spent a week with the faculty for a better understanding of the NEED offerings and how they could be integrated.  Multiple Kaukauna Utilities employees joined the educators during this week as part of the partnering experience.

The leadership group deliberated long and hard to develop the guiding principles by which the school would support accountability and innovation.  These were chosen to be: Place-based learning, Respectful climate, and Community Connections.  It was evident from the start; place-based learning was exciting for the educators to provide an innovative way to meet the needs of the students while growing their sense of community.  The community could be an extension of the classroom and the students could actualize what they learn.  Finally, the students were accountable and held to a high standard.  ‘The Park Way’-Respectful, Responsible, Ready to Learn, is not merely something on the student t-shirts worn to community visits but a mindset of all those involved with this project.


Although numerous topics could be provided to students by Kaukauna Utilities, it was important to have the topic tie into what the educator is doing at that time.  To that end, annual meetings are held between the Kaukauna Utilities presenters and the educators to align presentations to classroom learnings.   Initially, brainstorming was undertaken to develop the initial group of offerings.  Subsequent annual meetings have confirmed the initial offerings and opened the door for new offerings.  The list below indicates the offerings currently provided as place-based learnings for the students with a brief description of what is provided and how it ties to the classroom:

  • PowerTown: A tabletop miniature depiction of a typical city with electrical hazards such as substations, extension ladders, television antennas, kites, farm equipment, and others. The system is actually charged and the students see the arc when an electrical item touches the overhead wire.  Educators use this to introduce electrical safety and the function of electricity.
  • Function of Kaukauna Utilities: Introduces the youngest students to what a utility is and what it provides for the residents of the community.
  • Bucket Rides: Students are elevated to understand what happens when the utility personnel work on elevated problems and introduces the students to what a line crew worker does.
  • Operations Center-Mapping: Introduces students to what mapping technology is now available.  Introduces students to the concepts of a grid with coordinates.  Students find their homes on the satellite imagery software.
  • Hydropower: Introduces students to hydro generation and how it works.  Students visit operating generator and are exposed to components.
  • River Safety: Introduces students to low head dams and the hazards they provide.  Students see rushing water up close and the forces associated with it.
  • Water System and Water Conservation: Students exposed to how potable water is procured, filtered, stored, and used.  Students again exposed to grid concepts.  Students understand larger residential uses of water and how they can help manage.
  • History of KU: Students see pictures of the municipal utility in yesteryear.  Students see documentation from the utility that date back to early 1900’s.
  • Simple Machines: Students view examples of levers, mechanical advantage, fulcrums, and others. Students recognize how these items are used in everyday life.
  • Electrical Safety: Students view the safety equipment of a typical line crew worker and the significance behind each piece.  The educator volunteers to wear the gear so it is also entertaining for the students.
  • Wind Energy: Students are exposed to some to the principles incorporated in wind generation. Kaukauna Utilities has erected two demonstration wind projects at the local high schools.  Students view the websites of these turbines and read real-time data.
  • Solar Energy: Students visit one of the solar demonstration projects provided by the utility.  Students are exposed to how the sun’s energy is converted to electricity.  Students are exposed to the components.
  • Sustainability: Students are exposed to the Kaukauna Utilities main office which is LEED certified Gold. Students understand about the requirements to procure this certification.
  • PedalPower and Electrical Conservation: Students get to understand the components of an electrical generator.  Students ride a bike to power incandescent lights, compact fluorescent lights, LED lights, a fan, and a hair dryer.  Students understand the cost implications of each of these lighting technologies.
  • Operations Center-River Management: Students are exposed on what is done to maximize hydro power generation and what other environmental aspects must be considered while trying to maximize generation.
  • School Energy Efficiency Measurements: Students participate in exercises to measure energy efficiency such as light levels, humidity levels, and temperatures.
  • Kiosk: Students spend time with the in-house kiosk system.  Students view real time output of each hydro generator, wind generator, and solar generator on the system.  Students understand what is meant by renewable sources and see how much energy is generated that way.

In addition to the items indicated above, students took part in a city-wide elementary school web-based Energy Challenge hosted by Sustainable Fox Valley and sponsored by Kaukauna Utilities.  The students and student’s families made energy saving actions over a twelve week period.  Four elementary schools played the game. Park Community Charter School made the most actions thus providing the largest level of energy savings of all schools participating.  This result won the school a $1,500 first prize to be used for energy saving devices in the school.


Following its second year under the charter title, the 2012/2013 school year, the Park Community Charter School was again named Wisconsin Primary School of the Year and a finalist for the National Primary School of the Year by the National Energy Education Development Project Board of Directors.  Four students attended the presentation of these awards in Washington, D.C.  Expenses for two of the students were provided by Kaukauna Utilities.

Ultimately, the results of this endeavor will come many years down the road when these young people are adults.  Kaukauna Utilities hopes the experiences provided to the students will result in a life-long appreciation for their community, life-long energy and water efficient behaviors, and a passion to further their education in the electric or water industries.