September 6, 2013

Seven groups want to open Maine charter schools

They submit letters of intent – five for schools with a special focus, and two providing 'virtual' learning.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Seven groups want to open new charter schools in Maine next fall, including two virtual schools that were rejected by the Maine Charter School Commission in past years, two Montessori schools and a career-oriented school for at-risk youths in Portland.

The seven groups submitted letters of intent by Tuesday's deadline. The applications, which can run 500 to 700 pages, are due Dec. 2.

"As we look over the letters of intent, it's very, very exciting the type of schools that potentially could come to Maine that would just aid more children having the opportunity to have choices," said Jana Lapoint, chairwoman of the charter school commission and a member of the state Board of Education.

Maine now has five charter schools. Two opened last year and three opened this year. The state law that authorized charter schools in Maine limits the number to 10.

The proposal for Adventures in Learning Career Academies in Portland says it would provide career-focused instruction to at-risk students in grades 6 to 12. Academies within the school would focus on business, health care and STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who has been sharply critical of Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, the charter school that opened this week in Portland, said he also opposes the proposal for a second charter school in Portland.

"Generally speaking, this proposal by this company reinforces my worst fears about charter schools. It ends up competing for public resources to basically support private schools," Brennan said.

Charter schools are publicly funded but are formed and operated by parents, teachers and community members. They operate independently of public school districts and are exempt from many of the rules and regulations that apply to those districts.

Proponents say charter schools provide an alternative to traditional public schools, with the flexibility to use different teaching techniques that can better meet the needs of some students.

The Maine Education Association, the Maine Principals' Association, the Maine School Superintendents Association and the Maine School Boards Association have generally opposed charter schools, saying they siphon away resources from traditional public schools.

The Maine Education Association, the union representing most of the state's teachers, said in a prepared statement, "The schools applying are simply private schools that want public funds. This is not the direction our state should be going in, and it is not the direction that will help every Maine student receive the best possible education. In truth, these are back-door voucher programs."

The other groups that submitted letters of intent to the commission are:

Birches Montessori School, for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and peers in central Maine, for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Inspire ME Academy in Sanford-Springvale, for grades 4, 5, 6 and adding grades 7 and 8 in the following two years. It would cater to poor and special-needs students, and the children would have longer school days, get breakfast, lunch and snack, and wear school-provided uniforms.

Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School, which says it will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics and will include a character development component.

Many Hands Montessori School in Windham, for kindergarten through third grade, expanding eventually to eighth grade.

Montessori educational philosophy stresses student-initiated, hands-on learning exercises, multi-age classrooms and extended blocks of educational time.

Maine Connections Academy.

Maine Virtual Academy.

(Continued on page 2)

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