For Sturgis, a second foundation for education

Date Published: 
September 1, 2011
Ellen Chahey
News Type: 

Another school opens in September; second campus in 2013


What bigger news can there be for a school than that it’s going to have a sibling?

Sturgis Charter Public School, on Main Street in Hyannis, which serves grades 9-12, has had so many students enter the lottery for a seat that its board of directors decided to open a second campus. The original facility will now be known as Sturgis East, and the new school, opening this September, as Sturgis West, according to Eric Heiser, executive director.

The new West campus will spend its first year in temporary quarters just across Main Street in the old Artifacts furniture store, which is being renovated to house about 13 classrooms, five offices, and a library, Work is expected to be finished in mid-August. The school’s permanent location is planned to open near the Melody Tent in time for the next academic year.

Sturgis West will start out with only freshman and sophomore classes this year, with about 100 students in each class. As the current students move up, they will have a junior class in the fall of 2012, and that class will become the first seniors in 2013. Because of the rigor of the Sturgis curriculum, it is only possible to vie for a seat in ninth grade or the first semester of tenth.

As a public school, Sturgis does not discriminate in admissions but does have to hold a lottery for seats because it is deliberately small. “We don’t believe big is beautiful,” Heiser said, but then he explained that since he started as executive director in 2004 the student body has grown from 325 with no waiting  list to (in 2010) 414 with a waiting list of 460.

That’s when the board decided they had to open a second campus.

Because the emphasis is on a small school experience in which everyone knows everyone else, Heiser said that the two student bodies will not mingle. They will have separate lunch hours and their own activities and staff. Heiser will stay on as executive director of the whole school, with an associate at each campus.

During the 2011 lottery, students were allowed to express their preference for East or West campus, and those requests were honored by lottery number, with the lower numbers more likely to get their first choice.

What’s the draw for those who want to go to Sturgis?

Small class size (an average of 17) is one, said Heiser, and so is the challenging International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, used in schools around the world. All juniors and seniors must enroll in the IB program, which is defined in school literature as “a rigorous pre-university course of study that leads to IB examinations.”

All Sturgis students must take four years each of math (including a course beyond algebra II), science, English, and history. They must also earn six credits in a foreign language (Spanish, French, and Latin are offered) and two credits in the arts.

In addition, they must write an “extended essay” on the academic subject of their choice (some choose to write in their foreign language, Heiser said) and participate in and reflect on a service project of their choice. The service, Heiser said, is based on “goals, rather than hours. The focus is on commitment rather than on compliance.”

One group of students decided to do their project together on an organic farm in Costa Rica. Others have formed choirs to sing at senior centers, or have volunteered at the NOAH Shelter.

Sturgis students are organized into “advisory groups” that Heiser said are a kind of “home base” where they talk about concerns and interests they have in common. The groups are also expected to take on service projects together.

The school itself is paired with an American IB school in Honduras that hosts Sturgis students who volunteer there for a program that helps children with cleft palates.

According to Heiser, 97 to 98 percent of Sturgis graduates go on to college, and during their higher education 80 to 90 percent do some of their study abroad. Currently, he knows of three alumni who are enrolled in foreign schools: one in Berlin, one in British Columbia, and one in a New York University program in Abu Dhabi.

Several faculty come from abroad. Heiser and many of the teachers are deeply involved in the IB movement; 10 faculty are IB examiners, which means that they grade IB papers from other schools.

School literature says that Sturgis is “the only high school in North America to offer an ‘IB for ALL’ curriculum.” This means, Heiser said, that students with learning differences and other challenges get an individual education plan and other special support throughout the IB program.

For fun and recreation, Sturgis offers a choice of 10 sports and about two dozen extracurricular activities from an Ancient Greek Society to a Bike Repair Club to Ultimate Frisbee and the yearbook. There is student government and a student newspaper.

The Sturgis budget gets tuition payments from the state based on the per pupil expenditure of the district in which the student resides. But as a charter school they may not receive state school building fund money, so the board is planning a capital campaign for its physical plants.

Heiser invited a visitor to look in the East campus window that faces Main Street. “There are some student comments there,” he said, “and I think some of them are quite moving.”

Among the names of the colleges (and the Marine Corps) to which the class of 2011 will disperse, there were some notes they left for passersby to read.

 “I’ve learned to persevere in challenging situations,” wrote one. Said another, “From day one this school has taught me to ask, ‘Why?’”