Selected readings on US charter schools
CUMBERLAND — Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy has received a $2.2-million grant from the Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit organization that raises money to help expand charter school networks.
Blackstone Valley Prep operates three schools, two elementary and a middle school, and enrolls almost 1,000 students from Pawtucket, Cumberland, Central Falls and Lincoln. The schools, part of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academy network, plan to expand to more than 2,000 students over the next decade.
Jeremy Chiappetta, Blackstone’s executive director, said the money will be used to realize the school’s long-range plans, which include adding a high school, two more middle schools and a third elementary school.
The money, in the form of grants, loans and a line of credit, has been used to hire someone to design Blackstone Prep’s high school, which will open in fall 2014 with 80 ninth graders.
“This grant allowed us to bring in that leader early,” Chiappetta said Tuesday. “It will pay for him to visit other high schools, attend conferences and design the school.”
The grant will also allow the school to hire directors of science, social studies and technology, leadership positions that smaller charter schools often can’t afford.
It will also allow Blackstone Valley Prep to hire principals for all its planned new schools and bring them in early so they can be actively involved in the school’s design.
“This philanthropy gets us to scale so we can operate without constantly fundraising,” Chiappetta said.
The Charter School Growth Fund is a philanthropic social-venture organization that invests in the highest-performing charter school operators, allowing small schools to expand into multi-school networks. Since 2006, the group has awarded between $160 million to $170 million in grants and loans.
The national philanthropists include the Walton Family Foundation, which progressives accuse of trying to “privatize” public education by supporting charter school networks. Other backers include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Kevin Hall, president and CEO of the growth fund’s board of directors, formerly served as the chief operating officer of the Broad Foundation, which recruits leaders from the military and the private sector and trains them to be educational leaders.
Kathy Hamel, a growth fund partner, said her group was drawn to Blackstone Valley Prep because it has a multi-year track record of academic excellence. The fund also looked at the school’s leadership, fiscal health and its commitment to underserved populations.
At Blackstone Valley Prep, 50 percent of the students are minorities and nearly two-thirds qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a key indicator of poverty.
“Blackstone Valley Prep combines strong academic performance with a really joyful culture,” Hamel said.
She pointed to the school’s music program, which provides string instruments to all third and fourth graders, its commitment to the arts and its strong afterschool program. Students, she said, seemed excited about what they were learning.
Chiappetta, who came to Blackstone Valley Prep after serving in the Providence public schools, said he wanted to create a school “good enough to send my own kids.” He has two students at the school, a third grader and a child in kindergarten.
During a visit Tuesday, a group of children tackled pre-algebra in a class called “music math,” which weaves basic math into a fun music program. At one point, the class began dancing while their teacher played a guitar. This was more than a way to shake out the wiggles. Without realizing it, they were learning about tempo and rhythm.
In a fourth-grade classroom, students were studying Greek mythology, particularly the myth of Icarus, who disobeyed his father by flying too close to the sun. The teacher pressed the class to make connections between the myth’s message and the culture’s values. Dozens of hands flew up whenever a question was posed.
As Chiappetta said, “You can’t learn if you’re miserable.”
“You’ve got to have fun,” he said. “You’ve got to have inspiring lessons, lessons that get you thinking and talking.”
Source: Providence Journal – by Linda Borg