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Eight new area charter schools are proposed

By Steven A. Rosenberg
Globe Staff / August 12, 2012
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Of the 22 groups that recently submitted preliminary applications to the state to open charter schools, eight are in the region covered by Globe North, an area that is already home to 20 of the state’s 77 charter schools.

The eight proposed schools mostly target students from underperforming urban school districts, such as Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, Everett, Lowell, and Lawrence — communities where MCAS scores, high school graduation and college acceptance rates are lower than smaller, neighboring ones.

Included in the state’s Education Reform Act of 1993, charter schools are publicly funded but run by independent boards, and not subject to district oversight. Charters are granted for five-year stretches, and during that time the schools must adhere to the state’s curriculum frameworks. Typically, charters have a mission and a theme. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is reviewing the latest batch of proposals and plans to notify schools that have been chosen to submit full applications for charters next month. It plans to vote on final charter applications next February.

The proposals were submitted by BridgeSmart Preparatory Academy Charter School, Fenix Charter School, Somerville Progressive Charter School, YouthBuild Charter Academy, and Asia Pacific Charter School. In addition, Pioneer Charter School of Science, which has been open in Everett for five years, has proposed the most ambitious expansion, and wants to add three new grade 7-12 schools in Woburn, Saugus, and Billerica.

“We believe that every student can learn, we just need to find a way,” said Barish Icin, executive director of the Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett.

Founded in 2007, the grade 7-12 school has 360 students. As at most charters, teachers do not belong to a union.

At the school, educators work 45 hours a week and rotate among colleagues to teach its Saturday learning program. The school year is 200 days, or 20 more days than other schools in the district. Students also spend double the amount of time in the classroom learning some core subjects, taking up to two hours a day in both English and math from grades 7 through 10, and about two hours a day of science in Grade 9.

Icin said the proposed schools would replicate the academic curriculum in place in Everett. He hopes to open a school in Saugus in 2013, which would also serve students from Lynn, Salem, and also Peabody and Danvers, two communities that do not have charter schools. Another planned school would be in Billerica, which also has no charter school at present. If approved, it would open in 2014, and serve Lowell, Tewksbury, Chelmsford, Tyngsborough, and Dracut. The other planned school would be in Woburn, which also does not have a charter school, and would draw from students in Stoneham, Medford, Melrose, Wakefield, and Saugus.

Icin chose the communities because many of the students in those districts mirror incoming students at the Everett school. There, about half of the students live below the poverty level, come from single-parent families, and speak a language other than English at home. He believes traditional public schools have failed some students who need a longer time in the classroom and longer school days to achieve. He also said schools need to focus on math and science to prepare students for college and jobs. In June, all 34 of the school’s seniors graduated, and were accepted to college. They were offered $3.2 million in scholarships, and are heading to schools such as Columbia and Brandeis.

He also believes a no-nonsense, focused atmosphere fosters achievement and learning. At Pioneer,students wear school uniforms, are prohibited from using phones or iPods, and are part of a grade that is named Yale, MIT, or Harvard. Icin said the school’s retention rate last year was over 90 percent, and said the school teaches that hard work is rewarded through achievement.

In Lynn, proponents hope the Fenix Charter School becomes the second charter school in that city. The proposed grade 5-12 school would host 600 students and integrate project-based curricula “grounded in the core values of social entrepreneurship,” according to school founder Frank DeVito.

DeVito envisions a school where every student is accepted to college; a place where each grade works on year-round projects, such as assessing Lynn’s city planning and putting together a development plan for its downtown. The project would incorporate math, English, history, and science to create everything from maps and environmental pollution studies to reports about the city’s historical trends.

DeVito also sees a paper-free school, where there are no student or teacher desks, just long tables where kids and educators work together on iPads. “I think it’s the right design to help get kids to become who they want to be,” he said.

Kiyoshi Yu, founder of the proposed BridgeSmart Preparatory Academy Charter School, hopes his planned grade 6-12 school will be n Revere or Chelsea. Revere does not have a charter school; Chelsea has two. Yu’s proposal calls for a 221-day school year, which would run from August through June, and include two Saturdays a month.

He sees the school as a holistic learning center where students would balance up to two hours a day studying individual core subjects while also taking wellness courses such as yoga or dance. “I believe it brings them to a higher level of thinking,” said Yu, while discussing the extended learning day. “In a longer school day, discussion and discourse is allowed between teachers and students. We want them to always be intellectually stimulated.”

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.

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