Thursday, May 23, 2013
By SUSAN McMILLAN Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA - Up to eight charter schools could open in Maine this fall.
Nine groups have submitted notices of intent to apply for charters by the mid-week deadline, but one -- a high school in the Waldo County town of Monroe -- would not start classes until September 2013.
The number of applicants is higher than some state education officials, including Maine Charter School Commission Chairman James Banks Sr., had expected.
"I thought we might get five or six, but nine was a little more than I anticipated," Banks said. "I think there are always individuals who believe in different approaches to education. ... Charter schools kind of offer them that opportunity."
Charter schools are public schools that are relieved of some of the regulations and restrictions on traditional public schools. Some charters schools may offer innovative or alternative educational programs or specialize in areas such as the arts or environmental studies.
A charter is a contract between a school's governing board and the authorizer that oversees the school's performance.
The groups that have submitted notices of intent will apply for a charter with the Charter School Commission, but local school boards also can authorize charter schools in their communities. Only the state commission can authorize virtual charter schools, which do not count against the cap of 10 schools it can authorize in the next decade.
Maine law requires that charter schools be governed by nonprofit, nonreligious organizations.
The full applications to the commission -- including details about curriculum, leadership, staffing, facilities and finances -- are due June 29, but many groups intend to apply sooner. A charter with the commission must be in place 60 days before classes start. The applicants are:
• Fiddlehead Art & Science School in Gray. For nine years, Fiddlehead Art & Science Center has offered preschool based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, which emphasizes child-directed learning and exploration.
The center opened a private kindergarten two years ago. Executive Director Jacinda Cotton-Castro hopes to open a charter school this fall with 30 students in kindergarten through grade five, then expand up to eighth grade and 140 students in the course of a decade.
• John Jenkins Leadership Academy, a virtual program for grades seven through 12.
Lewiston resident John Jenkins is a motivational speaker and was mayor of Lewiston and Auburn, a state senator and a write-in candidate in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
• Maine Connections Academy, a virtual school for kindergarten through grade 12.
Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who was a sponsor of the bill creating charter schools in Maine, will be a founding board member of Maine Connections Academy.
The group plans to contract with Connections Education, a for-profit company based in Maryland, to provide the curriculum, materials and management services.
• Rural Aspirations Project, a small high school in Monroe that would serve students from Waldo County.
• Baxter Academy of Technology and Science, a high school in Portland focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
• Cornville Regional Charter School, an elementary and middle school using proficiency-based education and supplementing the curriculum with traditional crafts such as knitting and woodworking.
• Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, an agricultural and environmental magnet school in Fairfield run by Good Will-Hinckley. The school would convert to a charter to improve its financial sustainability and expand enrollment.
• Maine Virtual Academy, a virtual school for kindergarten through grade 12, run by Virginia-based company K12 Virtual Schools.
• Monson Academy, which would start as an elementary school and expand to include high school and college. The curriculum would emphasize a connection with nature.
Banks said the Charter School Commission will meet Monday to organize teams of commissioners and outside experts who will review applications as they come in.
The commission will issue another request for proposals in late August for applications to open charter schools in 2013.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: