Group to apply to run charter high school

Date Published: 
June 11, 2012
Douglas Moser
News Type: 

LAWRENCE — A non-profit organization hopes to open the city's first charter high school - YouthBuild Charter Academy - next year.

Lawrence Family Development and Education Fund, Inc. already operates a pre-kindergarten to 8th grade school in the city. It will apply on July 1 to open a 250-seat independent charter high school in September 2013 to focus on high risk students.

"We have a thorough understanding of the magnitude of the dropout issues we have in our community," said Ralph Carrera, director of the Lawrence Family Development charter school on West Street. "Over the course of the last six years alone, we've lost over 2,500 students that started in grade nine and don't finish by grade 12."

According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Lawrence's four-year graduation rate in 2011 was 52.3 percent.

YouthBuild Charter Academy will recruit students who have dropped out of school, have had problems while in school and possibly have had run-ins with the law, according to a statement by the Lawrence Family Development and Education Fund.

Carrera said the school's program will integrate a range of services, including counseling, teen pregnancy services and drug and alcohol counseling, into the school day. "It allows every professional that touches that child's life to meet once a month to determine whether there are issues that hamper that child's ability to succeed," he said.

The program will be modeled on services the organization started in 1988 with the creation of the Lawrence Youth Commission, which started as a community service program and expanded several years later into education, leadership, community service and English language skills.

Starting small

If approved by the state, the school's curriculum would incorporate community service into the program, which is to include career and post-secondary education coaching and character and leadership development. It will also offer college-level accredited courses. Carrera said the organization is working with several local institutions of higher learning, including Northern Essex Community College, Salem State College and the University of Masaschusetts-Lowell.

The school would open with 40 students in the first year, and grow by 42 students each year for the next five years, reaching 250 students by 2019, according to a summary of the proposal.

Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, last month allowed an increase in new charter school enrollment in six cities that totaled more than 3,000 seats. In Lawrence, 360 additional seats became available.

Community Day Charter schools last year won approval to open two new charter schools that will eventually be kindergarten to eighth grade schools each with 400 students. Those schools will open in September 2013.

This year, Community Day has 331 students enrolled in its K-to-8 school. Lawrence Family Development Charter School has 616 students.

Lawrence receiver and superintendent Jeffrey Riley recently announced a turnaround plan for the city's public school system that included charter school operators running some of the public schools.

Lawrence Family Development and Education Inc., was not part of that announcement. Riley declined to comment because he has not yet reviewed the proposal.

Charter school advocates said the move is much needed in Lawrence, given the state of the district's finances and its educational outcomes.

"We believe Lawrence families and students need more choice in education," said John R. Schneider, Director of Gateway Strategic Initiatives for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. "YouthBuild Charter Academy would meet a great need in Lawrence and help students achieve success in school. That's good for the students and good for the city."