The leaders of Harpswell Coastal Academy are searching for ways to keep the school open, even as they begin the complex, untried process of shutting down at the end of the academic year, according to Interim Head of School Mel Christensen Fletcher.

We know that we’re closing as one of Maine’s 10 charter schools, but we are looking at whether we have any other options to reform as something else,” Christensen Fletcher said. “If we can find something else that will work for us, we want to see if we can make that happen.”

Earlier this month, the Maine Charter School Commission narrowly voted not to renew HCA’s charter, citing the institution’s high chronic absenteeism rates, low enrollment and failure to hit academic benchmarks, among other persistent issues. As a result, HCA, which first opened in 2013, will become the first Maine charter school to close at the conclusion of this school year.

While the commission approved a 45-point school closure plan in 2019, it has never been put into practice until now, according to Amy Allen, the body’s operations director. Commission staff have begun meeting with HCA leadership to iron out a timeline for notifying the school’s creditors, conducting a financial audit, setting a final employment date for staff, and more.

The Charter Commission plans to provide additional support to HCA students, many of whom struggled to succeed socially or academically in the traditional public school system. According to Allen, the commission is working with the Maine Department of Education to provide students with access to resources from the National Alliance of Mental Illness Maine (NAMI).

“This obviously is a very difficult situation,” she said. “The highest priority in addition to checking boxes that have to be checked is to prioritize that smooth transition for students and families.”


Even as they work with the commission on a closing plan, HCA staff are exploring pathways to reopening next year, Christensen Fletcher said. Backed by several parents, students and community members, the team is considering whether the school could go private, become a public magnate school, partner with an existing school or find some other way to stay active.

HCA is our school of choice,” parent Leslie Watts said. “The philosophy, the people – it’s a perfect fit for us. If the spirit of that could continue in some form, we would be very, very excited about that.”

Harpswell Coastal Academy will solicit feedback from parents, students and locals as it weighs possible steps forward, according to Christensen Fletcher. She said the school won’t consider reopening plans that aren’t supported by the community or that prevent HCA staff from providing their students the support they need this year.

“The piece that we are really trying to wrap our heads around right now is what are the implications of carrying out this plan on the operations for this year?” she said. “I think really the big challenge for the year will just be finding the right balance.”

While HCA staffers split their time between managing the school’s normal operations, planning to close and considering options to reopen, parents like Watts must strike a balance between supporting reopening and finding viable back-up plans for their kids.

“We’re doing a little bit of both,” Watts said. “I want to support HCA in the transition … but we’re also looking at other possibilities. We’re just kind of seeing what happens.”

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