Proposed charter school for Fitchburg area gets new life

Date Published: 
November 5, 2014
Author: 
James Vaznis
News Type: 

Massachusetts education officials on Wednesday raised the possibility that they could approve the opening of a new independent charter school in the coming months, elevating a previously sidelined proposal to finalist.

Founders of the Academy for the Whole Child Charter School , which would be located in the Fitchburg area, were able to revive the plan by reconfiguring the composition of the school districts that the charter school would serve so it focuses more narrowly on districts with low MCAS scores. That move satisfied a state requirement for further consideration.

“It’s reassuring to know that we are moving into the final phase,” said Concetta Verge, one of the founders of the charter school. “We feel very good about that.”

The state had pulled the Academy for the Whole Child and another proposal in Brockton from consideration as finalists last month because of a procedural error made by the department. The two proposals were the only two finalists this year for new independently run charter schools, dashing hopes of many education advocates that any charter schools would be authorized this year.

It would have marked the fist time in 15 years that the state approved no new independent charter schools, causing charter school proponents to protest. Governor-elect Charlie Baker also weighed in on the campaign trail last month, urging state education officials to reverse course.

The Academy of the Whole Child still has a ways to go in the approval process before declaring victory. Next steps include filing a final application by Nov. 14.

“Once we have received the final application, we will consider its merits as we would any other,” said Jacqueline Reis, a state education spokeswoman.

If the final proposal meets the criteria for approval, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester would then forward it forwarded to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in February for approval.

A possibility also remains that the New Heights Charter School of Brockton could be re-instated as a finalist. Founders of that proposal and their supporters turned out for a hearing sponsored by the state education board Wednesday night to plead their case.

In blocking the two proposals last month, the state cited a provision that restricts where charter schools can open. The provision requires that at least two proposals in any given year be located in districts with MCAS performance in the bottom 10 percent in the state. Both the Brockton and Fitchburg proposals were above that threshold.

The move was perplexing for the Fitchburg applicants because some of the districts in the school’s proposed 10 district region actually ranked in the bottom 1o percent. However, the region also included three districts with solid MCAS scores -- Lunenburg, Ashburnham-Westminster, and North Middlesex -- pushing the overall average for the 10 districts above the performance threshold.

In response, the Fitchburg applicants eliminated those three districts and replaced them with Clinton, which has lackluster scores. The change caused the overall MCAS scores to fall into the bottom 10 percent, making the application eligible for further consideration.