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Charter school plan clears big hurdle

A proposed charter school in Brockton - backed by local Cape Verdean and Haitian activists as well as business leaders and educators - is a big step closer to gaining state approval.

Cutting the field of potential new charter schools in half, the state Department of Education has chosen the Sabis International Charter School of Southeast Massachusetts and four others across the state to submit final applications.

Sabis would serve roughly 1,300 students in kindergarten through Grade 12 and would be open to students in about a dozen communities, from Randolph to Middleborough.

The state Board of Education could vote on the five proposals in February. It's unclear whether the board could approve all five or only a select few.

"Our team is very excited about the good news to go forward with the application," said Aminah Pilgrim, chairwoman of the proposed school's board of trustees and vice president of the Cape Verde Association's board of directors.

Organizers have teamed up with a national for-profit education corporation, Sabis Educational Systems of Minnesota, which operates charter schools in Holyoke and Springfield, and formerly had ties with Foxborough Regional Charter School. The new school in Brockton, if approved, would stress multiculturalism and character building.

Charter schools often are trumpeted by supporters as a way to offer innovative education without the constraints of teacher unions and other rules. But the schools are frequently criticized by public school administrators, teachers' unions, and taxpayers for taking state money away from districts that lose students to charter schools.

Organizers have until Nov. 13 to submit the final application. A state review team, overseen by its education department, will then scrutinize the application, interview the applicants, and hold at least one public hearing in the Brockton area.

"We're very optimistic about the prospect of approval," Pilgrim said. "I think it's fair to say our confidence stems from our belief that we have in the Sabis system and its proven results."

On state standardized tests, students at the Sabis charter school in Springfield, for instance, typically score well above their peers at Springfield High School, according to the company.

Sabis Educational Systems oversees 50 schools in 14 countries, all of which use similar curriculums that aim to prepare students for a global economy. Students take foreign languages, starting in kindergarten, and teachers around the world meet annually to share best practices.

However, lessons in US schools are tailored to meet state academic standards.

While Sabis of Southeast Massachusetts is stressing its regional appeal, local superintendents expect the largest percent of students would come from Brockton.

Brockton schools Superintendent Basan Nembirkow could not be reached for comment.

Sabis of Southeast Massachusetts is by far the largest charter school under consideration this year. The other four schools range in size between 270 and 580 students and would mostly serve students in upper elementary school grades, middle school, and high school. Those schools would be located in Boston, Haverhill, and the Springfield-Chicopee area.

However, Sabis wouldn't immediately open as a 1,300-student school. Initially, it would start as a K-5 school, and then would add a grade each year to become a K-12 school.

Of the 60 or so charter schools in the state, only six are in Southeastern Massachusetts, ranging from urban centers in Brockton, Fall River, and New Bedford, to more affluent areas of Foxborough, Norwell and Plymouth.

Two of the five charter school proposals that didn't move forward would have been open to students in Southeastern Massachusetts. One would have been based in Boston, serving students as far south as Randolph. The other would have been in the Attleboro-Norton area.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.

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