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Boosters laud charter schools at hearing

Comments focus on 14 proposed for Boston

Many on hand yesterday at Boston City Hall, including Sunny Schwartz (with her daughter Ilana), wore red shirts in support of the proposed Boston Chinese Immersion Charter School. Many on hand yesterday at Boston City Hall, including Sunny Schwartz (with her daughter Ilana), wore red shirts in support of the proposed Boston Chinese Immersion Charter School. (Yoon S. Byun/ Globe Staff)
By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / December 8, 2010

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Proponents of proposed charter schools and advocates for the concept gathered yesterday to address a state panel, part of the four-month review process that will decide how many new schools will open around the state next year.

The hearing was the seventh of eight meetings, during which members of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will hear comment and feedback on 23 proposed charter schools that are in the final application stages.

“The charter schools in Massachusetts have an unbelievably good track record of academy performance,’’ said Dominic F. Slowey, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter School Association. “The charters have offered and will continue to offer very high-quality education, which is desperately needed in urban areas around the state.’’

Fourteen proposed Boston charter schools were discussed yesterday at the hearing, which was held at Boston City Hall. Only the two proposed Horace Mann district-run charter schools have been formally endorsed by Boston School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson: UP Academy and Boston Green Academy, both slated for South Boston.

“We are very excited to work with these two groups [UP and Boston Green], because they have chosen to bring their strong track records of success to work with us as part of the district,’’ said Ann Waterman Roy, director of strategic planning for the Boston public schools.

Many of those attending wore red shirts in support of the proposed Boston Chinese Immersion Charter School.

Wilfrin Hiciano, 16, of Lynn, a sophomore at St. Mary’s High School in Lynn, graduated from a KIPP Academy charter middle school there. KIPP, which stands for the Knowledge is Power Program, is applying to open a similar school in Boston.

Hiciano said having a good education and a long school day has kept him out of trouble.

“KIPP tries to extend kids’ potential to what it could be,’’ said Hiciano. “I think it would be good for Boston because young people like me are tempted to do a lot of things, and we have a lot of free time. Having KIPP go from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon provides a block for kids where they’re out of the streets and out of the places they shouldn’t be.’’

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools created through agreements with the state that allow them to operate with more independence than traditional public schools. Enrollment is determined by a lottery. Charter schools receive state dollars for each student who attends, money that would otherwise stay within the local school system.

This school year, 63 charter schools are educating more than 27,000 Massachusetts students, about 20 percent of whom are in Boston.

Few showed up to speak in opposition to what was basically a pep rally for the concept of charter school education yesterday. On Monday, Richard Stutman, head of the Boston Teachers Union, lashed out at the city, accusing officials of “meeting secretly’’ to offer charter school officials the chance to use buildings that housed schools slated for closing, before parents and students knew their fate.

“There may have been a deal cut behind everyone’s back to sell, lease, or rent some of our current school buildings,’’ said Stutman. “It is not only premature, but I would say insulting to everyone who works in these buildings.’’

Stutman attended the hearing yesterday, but said he was only observing.

“We’re not against the creation of charter schools,’’ Stutman said in an interview after the hearing. “We think the funding formula ought to be changed.’’

He said that 40 percent of the students who attend charter schools in Boston come from private schools, but that the district loses the money anyway.

John M. Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com.