They met together for the first time early May. Five women with a singular goal: create a charter school with a socially conscious curriculum.

With a projected opening of Fall 2016, the five founding board members have met regularly over the course of the past several months, drafting their charter and laying the foundation for their institution from the ground up.

But an important detail had yet to be determined — the name.

“That was a long discussion,” Lisa Labbe said. “That took weeks. I believe it was actually Jyoti who said it first.”

“With a glass of wine,” Jyoti Parmar interrupted jokingly.

Parmar had always simply referred to their prototype as “our school.” Eventually, the name stuck.

A fluid acronym building on multiple themes, OUR School was undeniably the perfect handle. It was a unanimous vote.

The idea to create OUR School emerged out of Wendi Bellows’ concern for her 12-year-old son’s public school education. Bellows, who helped write a charter application for Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology in Hernando County and has 12 years of experience as a grant writer, said her dream had always been to fix the educational system in a small way by starting her own school.

Parmar had always simply referred to their prototype as “our school.” Eventually, the name stuck.

Bellows said she wanted to work with a group of people in Gainesville to start a charter school that would serve an important need in the community, especially for teenagers. She said there are few educational options available for parents of children in middle and high school, which is why OUR School will focus on grades 6 through 12.

Last March, she put out a call to various parent-oriented Facebook groups for anyone interested in starting a school. She organized a meeting, and eventually a core group of women formed who became the founding board.

The five members — Bellows, Labbe, Parmar, Leah Fox and Lori Riddell — each have specific roles in organizing the school that relate to their respective backgrounds in education and business.

Fox and Riddell have been developing the educational plan, Bellows the organizational plan, while Labbe and Parmar are focused on the business strategy.

Bellows said the board has met almost every week since May to draft the charter, an extensive planning document that in some cases can reach 300 to 400 pages long. They will file the Florida Department of Education charter application with the Alachua County School Board on Oct. 1 of next year, which then goes to the state for approval. If the application is approved, the OUR School will open its doors for the Fall 2016 school year.

Maya Velesko, 38, mother of two and a graduate student at the University of Florida, said she had been uncomfortable with the idea of sending her 10-year-old daughter, Lily, to public middle school.

“I’ve been having a really tough time deciding what direction to go,” Velesko said, “and I unfortunately am not in the position to consider private schooling.”

Velesko’s children currently attend Expressions Learning Arts Academy, a K-5 charter school in Gainesville.

Velesko said she feels public school curriculum emphasizes repetitive learning and has little to do with individuality. Velesko, who has known Bellows for a few years, said when she heard of OUR School she was thrilled about the prospect of an institution run by conscious people aware of social justice issues, individual learning styles and critical thinking.

“That’s the sticking point for me — critical thinking skills and building on those,” Velesko said. “And I do not believe the current tenants of curriculum that are coming through the administration are placing much value on the individual child and on their style of learning.”

Velesko said Lily, who is currently in fifth grade, may have to do a year somewhere else before OUR School opens.

“We can hang for a year,” Velesko said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Bellows explained that the main difference between charter and public schools are the schools’ missions. Charter schools are guided by their charters, which can involve curriculum that is vastly different than what is taught in public schools, thus providing parents with alternatives to public education.

“That’s the sticking point for me — critical thinking skills and building on those,” Velesko said. “And I do not believe the current tenants of curriculum that are coming through the administration are placing much value on the individual child and on their style of learning.”

Fox, who is leading the educational planning, said public school teachers and administrators are under a lot of pressure to prepare students for standardized tests because funding is so directly attached to those scores. This leads to overly mechanical learning and a test-based approach to education.

Students at OUR School will be required to take state exams, and their scores must meet certain requirements for the school to pass. Its curriculum, however, will not be created with a goal of producing high scores, Fox said.

The board members said OUR School is a grassroots effort that they want parents, business leaders and experts from the community to be involved in. According to Parmar, a great deal of talent and energy can be lost when parents are not engaged in public schools, where it can be hard for them to bring about change.

“We really want to be a school where parents feel that their voice is being heard,” Fox said, “and that they are working with us as a team to support the success and thriving of their children.”

The board said OUR School will run as a tuition-free public charter school.

“We’re definitely all in agreement that we’re not doing this for profit. We’re doing this to create a new kind of learning environment,” Labbe said. “So hopefully we’ll become a model, especially within our district, that other schools might want to follow.”

Bellows said their school will take an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

“We want to cultivate a dynamic learning environment based on innovation, social justice and environmental responsibility,” Bellows said. “And we’re focusing very much on project-based learning.”

Fox said they envision students leaving OUR School as strong critical thinkers who can work collaboratively, ask authentic questions and feel empowered to explore their interests.

“I think our students are going to graduate being people who know themselves,” Parmar said. “As opposed to going through the next 10 years trying to find themselves, they will have had that opportunity because the learning is student-led to a good degree.”

OUR School’s emphasis on social and emotional learning is thoughtfully woven into the details of the charter, down to the disciplinary plan.

Riddell said the school will focus on building a community that supports each other — an approach that strives to prevent bad behavior before it occurs, rather than correcting it after. They are working with River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, a local peacebuilding center, to create a plan in which discipline will be minimal.

“Very much embedded in our school’s culture would be mindfulness training,” Parmar added, “and providing the children with the tools to manage their emotions.”

Fox said they envision students leaving OUR School as strong critical thinkers who can work collaboratively, ask authentic questions and feel empowered to explore their interests.

The board members said they are currently focused on developing the educational structure, which needs to be tackled before they get to the details of the business and organizational plans.

Bellows and the other board members plan to remain involved with the school after it opens, but they aren’t exactly sure what their roles will be.

“Right now I’m very focused on creating the school,” Bellows said. “None of us who are volunteers on this project are really focusing on ourselves and our roles later on. We’re focusing on what’s best for the community.”