HINCKLEY — Dozens of students, parents and other supporters of Maine’s first two charter schools urged state officials Tuesday to renew the charters of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley and the Cornville Regional Charter School.

“This has been life changing for me and I’m only 16,” said Alex Campbell, a freshman at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, who said he “used to wake up every morning sick,” in dread of going to school. “This school has showed me there is so much more to life … It’s a totally different way of learning.”

By law, the Maine Charter School Commission must vote whether to renew any charter school after it has been open five years. The public hearings held at the two schools Tuesday were the last step before the commission votes on Nov. 8. The commission has already completed on-site inspections, interviews and written evaluations of the schools.

The commission can renew charters for as long as 15 years, add conditions for improvement, or choose not to renew.

The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, a high school with about 150 students, emphasizes agriculture and science in its hands-on learning style. Students raise animals, farm gardens and have three large greenhouses on a 1,800-acre campus that was once the Good Will-Hinckley School for Boys and Girls.

The school has year-round classes and offers boarding for students. The school is growing, and last year completed a $7 million renovation that allows it to enroll as many as 210 students over the next three years.


Officials said they are considering opening a middle school on campus and a home-based program for pregnant or home-bound students.

Cornville, an elementary school with 144 students, emphasizes its unique learning model. The students are clustered by ability, not grade level, and the school is based on students being self-directed and independent.

“I can’t tell you what a difference this place has made,” said Jamie Hyde, who has two children at the school, including a son with special needs. Through tears, she described seeing other students help her son in the classroom. “He is loved. He is wanted. It wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”

“I thank God every day for this place. It is amazing,” she said.

Cornville officials are also looking to expand, with a high school in downtown Skowhegan and an early childhood center for pre-kindergarten students in the former Skowhegan Nursery School Building on Dr. Mann Road. The commission will vote on that request in December.

Cornville’s proposed high school drew both supporters and critics at the hearing.

Several parents and students said they want the high school so that students can go to a high school with the same learning style. But a handful of critics said the proposed site poses traffic and parking problems, and local merchants said the area can attract homeless or intoxicated people who could pose a safety issue.

State law allows a maximum of 10 charter schools.

Maine now has seven brick-and-mortar charter schools and two virtual charter schools. A total of about 2,000 students attend charter schools in Maine, which has about 182,000 students in all.

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