AUGUSTA — After a challenging first year, a charter school dedicated to the performing arts is dropping its partnership with online education provider K-12 Inc. and adopting a new academic model for its second year.

Snow Pond Arts Academy in Sidney was the state’s first charter school using a model where local, in-classroom teachers used online lesson plans that were purchased from K-12, a national for-profit education services provider.

But the school, which had about 100 ninth- through 12th-grade students this year, ran into several problems in its first few months, prompting an overhaul this spring that is still underway, according to school and Maine Charter School Commission members.

“They had a difficult first semester with changes in personnel that weren’t anticipated,” said Bob Kautz, the commission’s executive director. “After the second semester, things were really starting to gel.”

A 90-day report by a commission review team cited concerns about a lack of key administrators, including a head of school, principal and special education coordinator; lack of training and experience for teachers trying to incorporate arts education into the academic lesson plans; a budget deficit of about $44,000; and a lack of clear testing schedules.

On Tuesday, a new plan for Snow Pond’s second year was approved 6-1 by the commission. It includes the new head of school, plans to hire full-time teachers for classroom instruction, reviews of all agreements and policies, and new lease arrangements with the 80-year-old New England Music Camp Association.

Commission member Nichi Farnham dissented, saying she liked the plan, but first wanted the commission’s legal counsel to determine whether the changes were substantial enough to merit amending Snow Pond’s charter to operate. In particular, she noted that the academic model was described in the original charter as being a mix of online resources taught by local teachers on-site, in what’s called “blended learning.” The new model eliminates the online component.

Snow Pond students attend both academic and performing arts classes at the same 40-acre campus in Sidney used by the music camp’s summer program and has access to its facilities and instruments.

In the first year, local academic teachers worked half-time and used the education lesson plans of K12 Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, which is the education services provider for Maine Virtual Academy, one of the state’s virtual schools.

Under the new model, next year those same four teachers will work full time in math, English, social studies and science, along with a half-time language teacher, and they will develop their own lesson plans instead of using K-12 Inc.’s, said Deborah Emery, the head of school.

Principal Heather King said Tuesday the biggest problem was integrating arts into the English, math, science and social studies material. It was also challenging for teachers to switch between focusing on the online tools – including videos and online reading assignments – and in-class instruction.

King praised K12 Inc. for its efforts to work with Snow Pond and said the school didn’t have a problem with the materials, but found it difficult to integrate them into the school’s performing arts mission.

“This was a struggle from the very beginning,” said the academy board President Carl Steidel, who is also an associate dean of students at Bates College and a member of the Maine Music Society Chorale and Chamber Singers.

“In order to do arts integration, students need to be working in conjunction with each other,” which was difficult with online learning tools, Steidel said. “It became clearer and clearer that internet-based learning was simply not working. By the end of the year it became really clear. Our goal was an arts integration model, not a virtual learning model.”

“The feedback from students was that they really yearned for classroom interaction,” King said.

A spokesman for K12 Inc. did not return calls for comment.

K12 Inc. was considered one of several vendors of education services for Snow Pond. Emery said the school ended the approximately $135,000 annual contract in June when it was up for renewal.

The school is using those funds to pay for full-time teachers.

Commission member John Bird, who worked with Snow Pond on its new plans, praised the new model.

“The blended curriculum was not as it needed to be,” Bird said. “In the course of the year, especially the second semester, we feel very confident that the experience has been put to very good use.”

The school has enrolled 140 students so far for fall 2017, and all current students except two are returning, Emery said.

Commission members joked that the school was starting its “second first-year” and agreed to have a more aggressive school visit and review schedule for the 2017-18 school year, including another 90-day visit after school opens in the fall.

But they said other Maine charter schools have also had to adjust after they opened.

“You just never know in the first year just what you are going to see,” member Jana Lapoint said.

Under Maine law, the state can have 10 charters, and there is only one slot left. On Tuesday, the commission said two groups had notified the commission they intended to apply for the final charter. They are Monson Forest Kindergarten, an outdoor learning school in Monson for pre-K through first-grade students, and Stanwood Montessori in Hancock County, for pre-K though eighth-grade students.

About 2,000 of Maine’s roughly 182,000 students attend charter schools. State funding for the schools, which are continuing to add whole grades at a time as they expand in their startup years, is expected to be about $23 million in 2017-18.

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

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