June 20, 2013

Portland charter school on track to open this fall

The Baxter Academy for Technology & Science meets the required enrollment and begins renovations at 54 York St.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Baxter Academy for Technology & Science has reached its minimum enrollment, begun hiring teachers and has started renovating its school building as the city's first charter school heads for a fall opening, officials say.

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click image to enlarge

Baxter Academy's executive director Carl Stasio stands outside the school's building at 54 York St. in Portland. Photographed on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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click image to enlarge

Baxter Academy at 54 York St. in Portland. Photographed on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

"I feel very good about how it's going," Chairwoman Kelli Pryor said Wednesday.

As of this week, 119 students have signed letters of commitment to attend the school, and five teachers have been hired, according to Executive Director Carl Stasio. The school needed a minimum of 117 students to open under its state charter.

The nuts-and-bolts work of opening Baxter Academy is welcome after almost two years of paperwork and meetings with the state charter commission to gain approval, said school board Vice Chairwoman Allison Crean Davis.

"We're still working extra hard, but this work is much more directly related to tangible elements of opening the school," she said. "This is the fun stuff. It's super rewarding."

Some of the state's other charter schools either previously operated as private schools or are housed in former school buildings. But Baxter's curriculum was built from scratch, and its building at 54 York St. was most recently used as a call center.

"It's taken an amazing coalition of volunteers to create something out of nothing," Pryor said.

Almost 11 classroom spaces, from art rooms to engineering labs, have been framed out and workmen on Wednesday were measuring space and perched high on ladders as they worked on ceiling wiring. A conference table with chairs and a single desk piled with mail and papers in one corner is the de facto office space used for board meetings and other school gatherings.

Stasio said work on the school building is on track to be done in time to open this fall.

Baxter's charter was approved in early May, after the school scaled down its expected enrollment from 160 students to 130. That meant less revenue coming in -- charter schools are mostly funded on a per-pupil basis with money the state would have paid to the school district in which the student lives. Baxter officials told the charter commission they covered the approximately $300,000 drop in per-pupil revenue by cutting some teacher positions, reducing the salary of the part-time executive director and increasing fundraising goals.

Baxter had weathered some controversy in March, after the board fired the school's founder and executive director John Jaques, prompting the commission to halt contract talks with the school and ask the board to explain the changes and its plans for opening the school.

The charter commission approved the target enrollment of 130 students, with a 10 percent fluctuation either way, or 117 to 143 students.

Enrollment numbers are expected to fluctuate further, according to Crean Davis, as some enrolled students change their minds and new students continue to sign up.

Stasio, who was the longtime headmaster at Saco's Thornton Academy, said he was looking forward to working with a small number of students and teachers.

"This is a real exciting opportunity," Stasio said, describing his vision of having students and teachers collaborate on projects and focus on science, technology, math and engineering. "Magical things can happen in that environment."

The school will open with 10 teachers, Stasio said.

Pryor said the five teachers hired so far include two Portland-area teachers: physics and math teacher Peter Moxhay, from Portland High School; and engineering/robotics teacher Jonathan Amory, an engineer who had been teaching at Freeport High School. Both Moxhay and Amory served on the Baxter Academy advisory board.

Amory has helped shape the school's curriculum and hire teachers, and has appeared before the state charter commission to describe the school's curriculum. His father, Dan Amory, an attorney at Drummond Woodsum in Portland, is the school's biggest donor, providing more than $250,000.

The other three teachers are: social studies teacher Bobby Shaddox, who was teaching at a California charter school, High Tech High in San Diego; special education teacher and coordinator Moises Nunez, who was working at Spurwink Services in Lewiston; and art and design teacher Nate Edmunds, most recently serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, who is a 2005 graduate of the Maine College of Art.

The five-member board of directors also has changed, with attorney Len Cole stepping down and parent volunteer Ruth Dean taking his place. Cole, who advises nonprofits, resigned because he has provided professional services to Baxter and could not continue to serve, according to Crean Davis. Dean was the organizer of the Friends of Baxter Academy.

 

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

ngallagher@pressherald.com

 

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