April 29, 2013

Former Thornton Academy headmaster to head Baxter Academy

Carl Stasio takes the reins of Portland's first charter school.

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

PORTLAND — The longtime headmaster of Saco's Thornton Academy has been named executive director of Portland's first charter school, Baxter Academy for Technology and Science.

"I'm very, very excited about this opportunity," said Carl Stasio, who retired last June from Thornton after serving as headmaster for 26 years. "I'm very interested in the possibilities of a small school like this."

Baxter Academy officials plan to open the science, technology, engineering and math -- or STEM -- school in the fall, with 160 students at their building at 54 York St.

The school has been roiled by controversy in recent months after the board of directors ousted the founder and then-executive director, John Jaques.

Stasio said he and the Baxter team have a lot of work to do in a relatively short time span. The school has 105 confirmed students, and construction gets under way at the York Street property this week. School officials say they are in the process of recruiting more students and hiring teachers.

"The first priority is getting staff in place, then getting to meet those people, get the group together and begin to think of us as an entity," Stasio said. "Baxter doesn't exist as a working entity.... There are a lot of loose pieces that need to be pulled together."

Among them, he said, are everything from figuring out how Baxter students would use the public library to working out relationships with corporate entities to partner with the school.

"It's a niche opportunity to really do some exciting things with a small number of faculty and students," Stasio said, adding that the school was rethinking the traditional high school curriculum.

"It's the kind of thing that not too many people get the opportunity to do in a lifetime."

Stasio led Thornton -- one of Maine's 11 town academies -- through a time when enrollment doubled to about 1,600 students, a middle school was added and a boarding program for international students was created.

"Baxter Academy will benefit from Mr. Stasio's expertise and his deep experience in leading a school that has both a unique mission but also an important public responsibility," said Kelli Pryor, chairwoman of Baxter's board of directors.

Stasio remained employed at Thornton after his retirement, working with donors through the school development office. He said he will continue to work at Thornton Academy part time through the end of the year. The executive director job at Baxter is also part time.

"I'll do whatever needs to be done to make it a success," said Stasio, who will begin his work at Baxter in early May.

In March, the school board hired Freeport High School math team leader Michele LaForge as head of school.

The school has also hired Adam Burk as interim chief operating officer. Burk is executive director of TEDxDirigo, and holds a master's degree in education from Goddard College in Vermont.

"Adam Burk's work is synonymous with innovative thinking and collaboration," Pryor said in an email. "He is a perfect fit for a school with a cutting-edge learning environment and forward-thinking teachers."

Charter schools are approved and overseen by the Maine Charter School Commission under a state law passed in 2011. The law caps the number at 10 schools in 10 years. Two have opened.

Charter schools receive public funding but are formed and operated by parents, teachers and community leaders and are largely exempt from the rules and regulations that public school districts must follow. They have become a highly partisan issue in Maine, strongly backed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage but opposed by legislators and people who want to protect the funding of public schools.

School and commission officials are in the final stages of working out Baxter's charter, or contract, which will go to the full commission for a vote, likely in May.

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

ngallagher@pressherald.com

 

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