Selected readings on US charter schools
FALL RIVER — One is a charter school that has long been a city presence, seeking to expand. The other is a proposed charter school awaiting approval from the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The leaders at both schools — Atlantis Charter School and the proposed New Heights Charter School of Fall River — announced Wednesday that they are forming a partnership.
That partnership is pending two approvals from BESE. Atlantis, currently a kindergarten through Grade 8 school with separate lower-school and upper-school campuses in the city, applied for expansion to include high school grades, 9 to 12. The school currently enrolls 795 students. With the addition of high school, it would have 1,400 students.
New Heights, formerly proposed as the in-district Fall River Innovation Academy, applied for 800 seats. If approved, New Heights would enroll 300 students in sixth, seventh and ninth grades, and expand through slow growth to Grade 13. According to New Heights’ executive summary, students would have the opportunity to take up to 20 college classes and potentially earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate high school.
There are 1,354 charter school seats available in Fall River, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The board is expected to render a decision on which proposed charters to grant during its February meeting.
“When New Heights was the Innovation Academy, we were excited to have that as opportunity for partnership,” said Robert Beatty, the executive director of Atlantis, in a conference call Wednesday. “We still thought Atlantis could support or benefit from a partnership.”
When asked about the decision to form a partnership, Beatty explained, “It’s two different high school models. It increases choice. Atlantis would lend an expertise for how charter schools operate — the back office, fiscal policies and procedures. These are often areas that present challenges for new charter schools.”
Beatty said if Atlantis’ application for expansion is approved it would also expand the school’s “ability to support other reform efforts in Fall River.”
“When we were going through the process of developing application, we needed to reach out to a number of charter schools,” said Omari Walker, the founder of New Heights. Walker formerly served as principal of Fall River’s Resiliency Preparatory School.
“We come from the in-district education world,” Walker said. “Bob has been generous with time. How can we generate together, share staff, share space?”
“We did have a lot of those conversations early on,” Beatty added. “Atlantis was supportive of the Innovation Academy model.
“We don’t look at it as competition. The hope is that the rising tide lifts all boats, the greater the number of strong educational programs.” Beatty said. “There’s certainly a competitive component. Our shared interest in providing a strong educational model for kids and families.
“I think both Atlantis and New Heights have very similar values,” said Walker.
Walker said mention of the new partnership was not included in initial proposal, but “the state is aware.”
Acquiring a facility to house Atlantis’s proposed grade 9 to 12 addition is Atlantis’s next challenge, Beatty said. “There’s a lot of work still to be done on the facilities front.”
He noted that Atlantis owns more than 60 acres of land near South Wattupa Pond. A decision to be made after BESE votes on the proposed charters is whether to construct a new school at that site, or “rehabilitate an existing building.”
The South Watuppa Pond parcel was purchased with the intention of building a new facility, Beatty said. “It’s always been a dream to have K-12 campus.”
When asked if there is a site in mind for New Heights, Walker said the school’s founding group, the Resiliency Foundation, has an “initial option drawn up” for the Cherry & Webb building on South Main Street for the school’s first five years.
“It has enough space for us to grow,” Walker said. “I think after the five years, we could look at potentially building a new space.”
“We were warned by many charter school operators, that a building was the greatest challenge,” Walker said.
“Charter schools do pay for their facility,” Beatty added. “Unlike public schools, charter schools do not have access to the (Massachusetts School Building Authority) — the money comes out of the operating budget.”
Charter school leadership have to raise funds or come up with a “creative financing option,” Beatty said.
Walker said while awaiting word from BESE on whether it will approve New Heights, the school’s proponents have embarked on a recruiting campaign, reaching out to students to get applications, in “all sections of Fall River. Knocking door-to-door.”
Walker said New Heights had established relationships with Atlantis, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Bristol Community College and Blueprint Schools.
“Two years of college already paid for — it’s an incredible opportunity for the city of Fall River to capitalize on,” Walker said. “That is where we rest our hats.”
The application is available on the New Height’s Charter School website, http://www.newheightscharterschoolfallriver.org.
Source: The Herald News – by Michael Gagne