By Gillian Graham
KENNEBUNK - Officials at the Heartwood College of Art are confident they have what it takes to create a one-of-a-kind charter school focused on fine arts.
If approved by the state Charter School Commission, it will be Maine's first charter school exclusively for middle school students and the first with an emphasis on fine arts.
Heartwood officials discussed their plans for the Heartwood Charter School of Visual and Performing Arts for the first time publicly during a meeting Tuesday night in Kennebunk.
Berri Kramer, president and founder of the college, said the school is preparing to submit a letter of intent to the Charter School Commission, the first step in an extensive application process that includes interviews and public hearings.
A law passed last year allows the commission to authorize as many as 10 charter schools over the next 10 years. The commission signed contracts on Tuesday with charter schools in Cornville and Fairfield. A charter school in Portland also has been approved, but the contract has not been signed.
The Heartwood school would offer traditional classes in the morning and studio time in the afternoon. It would be open to 54 students in grades 6 through 8 who live within 20 miles of the Kennebunk campus.
Students would be able to study studio arts, creative writing and, eventually, performing arts.
"This prepares them for a world of seeing differently and creative problem-solving," Kramer said. "We may have 54 kids in this school and only five will become artists, but all of them will be creative thinkers. They'll all be problem solvers."
The school must raise about $100,000 to renovate its 11,000-square-foot building and add a dance floor and stage, Kramer said.
The idea to establish a charter school for middle schoolers stems from the college's Artwood Bound program, which gives fifth-graders a chance try two studio art classes.
Darlene Nein, a Heartwood board member and art educator, said middle school is the perfect time to engage students in the arts and build their self-confidence.
The students will learn to become creative thinkers and collaborators, she said.
"Art allows you to invent your way through a problem," said Susan Wilder, a dean and teacher at Heartwood. "If we lose that independence and creativity, we will lose the American ability to create."
Jim Stockman, a theater designer from Kennebunkport, encouraged school officials to emphasize performing arts.
"The theater teaches not only how to communicate, but how to collaborate," he said.
Kelly Roche of Wells said middle school students have few opportunities for art education. She said she will consider sending her three children to the Heartwood charter school if it is approved.
"I think it's fantastic to have schools that offer different opportunities for students to learn in different ways and to meet the strengths of different individuals," she said. "I think it makes us a stronger community."
Jana Lapoint, chairwoman of the Charter School Commission, encouraged Heartwood officials to think outside the box when putting together their application.
Lapoint, the only commissioner who attended the meeting, said the commission will pay particular attention to the school's financial plan.
"I think your enthusiasm will carry you a long way," she said.
Marcia Hamlyn, chairwoman of the Heartwood board, said she is excited by the prospect of the charter school and believes the community will be, too.
"These are the kids that, if you motivate them, they can move the world," she said.
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: