Franklin charter school embarks on expansion

Date Published: 
March 29, 2014
Matt Tota
News Type: 

FRANKLIN — State education officials this week gave the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School the green light to double its enrollment and expand its district to encompass 13 other towns.

 Among the first charter institutions to open in the state, the school won approval for two amendments allowing it to increase its enrollment by 450 pupils over the next 10 years and extend the district beyond Franklin’s borders.

Beginning in November 2015, prospective students from Attleboro, Bellingham, Blackstone, Holliston, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon-Upton, Milford, Millis, Norfolk, Plainville, Walpole and Wrentham will have the same opportunity to enroll at the school as those from Franklin.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously approved the amendments.

"We are not only thrilled how positively the amendments were received by the state, but also with the fact that more students will soon have access to this program that has been so successful for the last 20 years," said Joseph Perna, assistant head of school.

With the amendments approved, the school’s 10-member board of trustees can begin planning the expansion.

The current lease agreement with the Archdiocese of Boston for the Main Street building the school occupies will expire in a year. And school officials say the expansion will require a new building.

"We’re bursting at the seams right now with 450 students," said Heather Zolnowski, the head of school. "We cannot fit another student into this building."

 Zolnowski said the school is still exploring whether to build a new facility or find a bigger building to purchase or lease.

 "We will stay at the same enrollment until we can move into a new building," she said.

To make its case before the state education board, the school showed it had the demand to justify the expansion. During the last enrollment opening, for instance, 500 students applied for just 50 seats.

"The demand we were able to demonstrate was certainly one of the strengths of our presentation to the state," Perna said.

In reviewing their expansion plans, school officials have also been cognizant of the Franklin Public Schools. 

In a recent memo to town officials, Town Administrator Jeffrey Nutting called attention to the charter school when pointing out declining enrollment in the district.

"The other unknown is whether the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School will expand," Nutting wrote. "They have requested permission from the state to expand, but it is unclear at this point if they will be approved, and if so, when and where would they expand."

Zolnowski said Benjamin Franklin’s regional district would likely lessen the effect on the public school district.

"We’ve had a lot of students outside of the Franklin community interested," she said. "The regional amendment would spread our impact out."