The Maine Charter School Commission voted unanimously to approve the charter extensions for three schools: Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, Fiddlehead School of Arts & Sciences and Harpswell Coastal Academy.

“Congratulations everyone,” Commission Chairwoman Laurie Pendelton told representatives of the three schools who were at the meeting in Augusta. Maine currently has nine charter schools, and the room to add one more in future years under the state’s “10 charters in 10 years” cap.

Under state law, all charter schools must go through a comprehensive evaluation at the five-year mark to renew their charters for up to another 10 years. In addition to evaluating student outcomes and organizational models, the commission determines whether the schools are fulfilling their mission and are financially and academically viable.

Baxter and Fiddlehead were renewed for 10 years, and Harpswell was renewed for five years, all by 5-0 votes.

“We have worked very hard to prove that Baxter has a place in Maine’s educational infrastructure and are encouraged by the MCSC’s vote today,” Baxter Executive Director Kelli Pryor said in an email. “During the school’s challenging startup years, we’ve remained focused on our mission of providing an excellent student-centered STEM option for Maine high school students.”

The commission said in its review that the Portland-based high school “is an example of a charter school education at its best.”

Baxter went through a change in leadership as it launched, and faced challenges opening in a new building. Today, the school is in the process of moving into a new building in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, and its enrollment has grown to 400.

The commission noted Baxter’s strong showing in state assessment tests – it got the highest statewide ranking for English and a top-10 slot for math – and that 72 of the 74 graduates in its first class, in 2016, planned to attend college.

About 2,000 of Maine’s roughly 182,000 students attend charter schools. State funding for the schools, which are continuing to add whole grades as they expand in their startup years, is $19 million in 2017-18.

The executive director for Fiddlehead, a pre-K-5 school in Gray, sent out an email to parents and employees thanking them for their “tireless work and commitment over the past four years.”

“It is because of this strong foundation that we have built together – that we were successful today!” Jacinda Cotton-Castro wrote.

Harpswell serves 6th- through 12th-graders in Harpswell and Brunswick. The commission noted concerns about the school’s results on statewide tests, but said it is showing signs of academic growth on other tests. It also said the school had been out of compliance with charter requirements four times over the last four years, but has taken steps to not repeat the errors, which included not providing proper notice and documentation of school changes to the commission and failing to conduct a state assessment one year.

Harpswell Executive Director Carrie Branson said they were “excited’ to get the renewal.

“When we started HCA in the fall of 2013, we were a team of six educators and sixty students. Over the last four years, we have grown to 200 students and more than 20 faculty,” she wrote. “We have expanded to two campuses, developed partnerships with incredible community organizations, and offered students real world experience in things from documentary creation to unmanned vehicle piloting, and bike repair to culinary arts.”

Maine’s nine charter schools include two virtual schools and two schools that offer residential options. There is no limit on the number of charters that could be opened by a school board within the boundaries of its school administrative unit, but so far no district has pursued a charter.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine