Somerville charter backers ready to regroup, try again
A founder of the group proposing an English language learners school in Somerville said Wednesday that it will reapply until the charter is approved.
“We’re in this for the long haul,’’ Selena Fitanides said of the Somerville Progressive Charter School group, and will “apply again and again until we get it right. And hopefully that will be next year.’’
The promise to redouble efforts comes after Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester declined to recommend the school’s application for a 425-seat charter program. Among six charter schools proposed throughout the state, Somerville Progressive was one of two that were not recommended to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for final approval. Chester’s decision was announced Feb. 16.
In feedback provided to the Somerville charter group, Chester questioned its education model, fiscal operations, and management plans, according to J.C. Considine, spokesman for the state education agency.
“The commissioner also had concerns about the group’s capacity to establish and manage a charter,’’ Considine wrote in an e-mail.
Although the feedback identified more than two dozen weaknesses within the charter’s prospectus, state officials lauded the group’s passion for educating children who are not realizing their full potential.
In citing 31 deficiencies in the group’s application, officials sought more clarity, detail, and explanation on topics as central as management structure, trustee selection, and learning philosophy.
The feedback report also briefly addressed the intense disagreement among parents, educators, and officials in the city over the school’s merit.
“Since the Somerville community is so polarized, it is not clear how the proposed school will maintain its support,’’ the report said.
In a phone interview last week, Fitanides was critical of how local politicians, teachers, and school officials - including Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi - had lined up against the proposed charter school.
“They certainly did better on running the opposition than they do on running the schools, I can tell you that,’’ she said. “I think they could really make some progress if they rolled up their sleeves.’’
Pierantozzi, who quickly dismissed the charter proponent’s assessment, acknowledged that while the student body in Somerville is challenging to educate, the district continues to make strides to ensure that all children are learning, and cited a proposed innovation model in the works at Winter Hill Community School.
He also was critical of the charter prospectus, and praised Chester’s decision.
“It was a charter prospectus that promised a tremendous number of things, and evidently the commissioner did not believe, after a thorough and thoughtful process,’’ that it addressed all of the requirements, Pierantozzi said.
Despite the criticisms, Fitanides was steadfast in her belief that the charter school is right for Somerville, and that parents will be swayed once the program opens.
“There is no question that what we propose is exactly what people want to see in a school,’’ she said. “Now we have another year to continue to line up faculty, to continue our recruitment efforts, to forge more alliances with local organizations.’’
According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 51.6 percent of students in the Somerville school system do not speak English as their first language. An additional 16.2 percent are categorized as having limited proficiency in English.
Matt Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.