At 2 new charter schools, a chance for a fresh start

Date Published: 
August 28, 2011
John Laidler
News Type: 

Going back to school will provide new opportunities for students attending charter schools being launched in Chelsea and Salem.

Excel Academy Charter School-Chelsea opened its doors last Tuesday, while the Salem Community Charter School is preparing to welcome students Sept. 8.

The schools are among 16 new charters - independent public schools - approved in February by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Nine of the new schools are opening this fall, with seven others - three in this region - scheduled to start in the 2012-13 school year.

Excel-Chelsea is chartered as a fifth- to eighth-grade middle school that at full capacity will serve 224 students. Located in leased space in a Second Street building, it begins this year with 56 fifth-grade students. The school is scheduled to grow by a grade each year.

The new Chelsea school is operated by Excel Academies, the organization that runs the existing Excel Academy Charter School-East Boston, an eight-year-old regional fifth- to eighth-grade school that also enrolls students from Chelsea.

The Salem Community Charter School is a ninth- to 12th-grade high school that at full capacity will serve 125 students. Operating initially in leased space on the ground floor of the Museum Place mall in downtown Salem, the school will serve 50 students this year.

The new Salem school is a Horace Mann charter, which unlike an autonomous Commonwealth charter school such as Excel-Chelsea, was developed with the involvement of the local school district, which also helped fund it.

Officials from the new schools said they were thrilled to see them get underway.

“We have so much excitement,’’ said Jessica Yurwitz, principal of the Salem Community Charter School, which is designed to serve students ages 16 to 23 who have dropped out of school or are at risk of doing so.

Among the innovative practices the school will use to serve its target population - about 75 percent of the students will be low-income - is to operate without grade levels.

Students advance toward a diploma based on assessments of their academic, social, and emotional competency, and their participation in a work-study program.

The school also will allow students to dictate “how and when they learn best’’ and follow an individualized approach in meeting their needs, Yurwitz said.