September 3, 2013

A look at Maine's five charter schools

BAXTER ACADEMY FOR TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE

20130827_Fiddlehead
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Fiddlehead School of Arts & Sciences

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Harpswell Coastal Academy

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Opens this fall in Portland with about 135 students total in ninth and 10th grades.

GUIDING PHILOSOPHY: The school will emphasize STEM-based education: science, technology, engineering and math, as well as hands-on project work.

SPECIAL PROJECTS: Teachers describe an interdisciplinary approach, such as studying a Shakespearean play, which would lead to an engineering analysis of catapults and the construction of a catapult. Fridays are to be set aside for students to work on projects, work in the community, do library research or use facilities at the University of Southern Maine.

FOUNDERS/BACKGROUND: The school was originally launched by John Jaques. Leadership changed in early 2013 when the board removed him and subsequently hired retired Thornton Academy head Carl Stasio as executive director. The school went through a major reorganization after Jaques left, with new donor financing, legal disputes and calls for a state investigation. Over the summer, the school weathered controversy after hosting a school choice lunch for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center and getting a temporary occupancy permit only a week before opening, after failing two building inspections.

GROWTH: The school plans to add a class for each of the next two years, with a goal enrollment of about 300 students in a four-year high school.

BUDGET: At about $2 million, Baxter has the largest budget -- and largest enrollment -- of the existing charters. Approximately $1.2 million will come from the state per-pupil allocation. The school has raised $28,000 through fundraising and has a $250,000 line of credit agreement with a local bank. Private support includes a $250,000 donation from a donor who has also given the school a $200,000 loan.

FACILITIES: Located in leased space at 54 York St., a former call center.

FIDDLEHEAD SCHOOL OF ARTS & SCIENCES

Opens this fall in Gray, with 42 students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades.

GUIDING PHILOSOPHY: Guided by core values and inspired by Reggio Emilia, child-centered and place-based approach to learning. Hands-on learning and incorporating the natural world into lessons are priorities.

SPECIAL PROJECTS: Teachers plan to take students on field trips to farmers markets, greenhouses and similar locations to provide ecological learning and student-led lesson planning.

FOUNDERS/BACKGROUND: Fiddlehead began about a dozen years ago as an after-school arts and enrichment program, eventually expanding into pre-K classes. The charter school is a separate spinoff from Fiddlehead Center, but builds on the work of those programs.

GROWTH: Goal of 98 students in pre-K through fifth grade in 2017.

BUDGET: Fiddlehead has a roughly $400,000 annual budget, and expects to take in approximately $370,000 in state per-pupil allocation. The school expects to get $15,000 in fundraising.

FACILITIES: Located in leased space (leased from Fiddlehead Center) at 25 Shaker Road.

HARPSWELL COASTAL ACADEMY

Opens this fall in Harpswell with about 60 students total in sixth and ninth grades.

GUIDING PHILOSOPHY: Instruction reflects the flexible education model of Expeditionary Learning schools. The work is project-based, students are grouped by ability.

SPECIAL PROJECTS: Harpswell Coastal Academy students will be out in the field two days a week, working with teachers or local experts -- a farmer, a clammer, a businessperson -- on projects that apply their education to real-world situations.

FOUNDERS/BACKGROUND: A group of residents focused on forming a small charter school with emphasis on agriculture and marine sciences, rooted in the rugged nature of this part of Maine. They were connected with John D'Anieri, a local resident who helped create Portland's Casco Bay High School as a school designer for Expeditionary Learning, who agreed to help create a new school.

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