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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools - Recommendations for New Charter Schools

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
February 15, 2017

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By statute, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) grants charters for new charter schools at its meeting in February. This memorandum summarizes the process for reviewing charter applications and my recommendations with respect to pending applications.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received five Commonwealth charter school prospectuses in August 2016. Three of the five groups that submitted prospectuses were invited to submit a final application. The Department also received one letter of intent from the board of trustees of an existing Commonwealth charter school seeking to open a second Commonwealth charter school and to establish a network of charter schools.1 In November 2016, the Department received final applications to establish four charter schools, including an application to replicate an existing school from the board of trustees of the Hampden Charter School of Science. The four proposed schools are listed in the table that follows.

Proposed Charter School NameDistricts to be Served
(Districts identified as performing in the lowest 10 percent are bolded)
Grade SpanMax EnrollmentProposed
Opening
Date
Equity Lab Charter SchoolLynn5-126402018
Hampden Charter School of Science - WestWestfield, Holyoke, Agawam, West Springfield6-125882018
Map Academy Charter SchoolPlymouth, Carver, Wareham9-1230020182
Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public SchoolSturbridge, Brimfield, Brookfield, Holland, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Spencer-East Brookfield, Wales, WebsterK-83602017

I recommend that the Board grant three charters, one for Hampden Charter School of Science - West, one for Map Academy Charter School, and one for Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School. Motions are attached for your consideration.

While all applications have strengths and weaknesses, the proposals I am recommending substantially meet the criteria for approval as set forth in the statute and the Board's regulations. I have reviewed these applications through the lens of our charter school accountability framework: the potential success of the academic program, the potential viability of the organization, and the potential faithfulness to the terms of the charter. I believe that the schools I am recommending for charters have a strong likelihood of success in closing achievement gaps and in improving public education in Massachusetts.

Two of the three recommended charter schools serve districts or regions that, based on current analysis, are among school districts performing in the lowest 10 percent of all districts on statewide assessments. My recommendation of the Hampden Charter School of Science - West and Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School permits the Board to also award Commonwealth charters to applicants whose districts or regions are not identified as performing in the lowest 10 percent. While the proposed Map Academy Charter School would have a charter region that includes one district performing in the lowest 10 percent, the composite region is not in the lowest 10 percent.

I am not recommending Equity Lab Charter School for a new charter. As a result of the review process, I determined that this proposal, while targeting one of the lowest 10 percent districts, requires further development and revision with respect to the charter school approval criteria.

Included in the attachments are the executive summary, written by the applicant group, and a summary of the final application review performed by the Department, including the evidence identified during the application review process. Other documentation is available upon request. The applicant group for the Equity Lab Charter School will be invited to participate in a debriefing session with the Department to further explain the feedback on their application.

The Review Process for Charter Applications

The Department conducted a multi-step review of the charter applications. The goal in this process is to identify those applicant groups that demonstrate the greatest potential for creating successful, high quality public schools. The review process included the components that follow.
  • An advisory panel, including both Department staff and external reviewers, reviewed each application. Panel members individually reviewed each application based on the published evaluation criteria, and the entire panel then met to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each application based on evidence provided in the application and suggested questions for the interview with the applicant group.

  • Four public hearings were held in the districts where the charter schools propose to locate. One or more members of the Board attended each hearing. The Department recorded each hearing on DVD; please contact the Department at 781-338-3224 if you would like to receive a DVD.

  • Written comments from the public were solicited at each of the hearings and through the Department's website. The superintendent in each proposed district received the application from the relevant applicant, was informed by the Department of the application links on the Department's website, and was invited to comment. The written comments received for the three schools that I am recommending are provided in the attachments.

  • The Department conducted interviews with members of the applicant groups, including proposed board members and members of the existing board of Hampden Charter School of Science, focusing on the concerns and questions raised in the panel review and public hearings. Interviews are summarized for each applicant group; a copy is included with this memorandum. Audio recordings of these interviews are available; please contact the Department at 781-338-3224 if you would like to receive an audio recording.

  • Department staff prepared a summary of the evidence provided in each application and during the interview regarding each applicant group's capacity to open and operate a high quality charter school based on the application criteria.

  • I held meetings with Department staff to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each application when judged against the application criteria.

Enclosed with this memorandum under Tab A are the following materials:

  • a list of the public hearings held in November and December 2016;
  • a list of the external and internal reviewers who reviewed prospectuses and charter applications; and
  • a memorandum detailing the charter application review process and the criteria for review.

The following information for Hampden Charter School of Science - West (Tab B), Map Academy Charter School (Tab C), and Old Sturbridge Charter Public School (Tab D):

  • an executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group;
  • a list of the proposed members of the school's board of trustees and proposed key employees;
  • a summary of the interview with the founding group;
  • a summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process;
  • a summary of the applicant's credentials as a proven provider, if required; and
  • written public comment.

The full charter applications can be accessed on the Department's website at Four Public Hearings Scheduled on Four Charter School Final Applications.

Proven Provider Review

The charter school statute requires that applicants are "proven providers" when seeking a charter or an expansion in districts performing in the lowest ten percent statewide and in which the nine percent net school spending (NSS) cap has been exceeded or would be exceeded by the award of new seats. The proposed Hampden Charter School of Science - West required a proven provider determination because it included Holyoke in its proposed region and Holyoke is above the nine percent NSS cap.3 The existing board of trustees of Hampden Charter School of Science previously met the proven provider requirement in January 2015 when the Board awarded additional enrollment to the school. In my current review of the Hampden Charter School of Science, I find that the board of trustees continues to be a proven provider.

In order to determine if a current board of trustees qualifies for proven provider status, as defined in 603 CMR 1.04(4),4 I consider affirmative, credible evidence of the existing school's success in each of the three accountability areas: academic program success, organizational viability, and faithfulness to the terms of its charter. My assessment of proven provider status for existing boards of trustees includes reviewing student academic performance and other evidence of overall success of the academic program at schools governed by the existing board.

In determining the eligibility of the existing board of trustees of Hampden Charter School of Science for proven provider status, I looked at student proficiency levels and growth measures on the MCAS and PARCC for all students and student subgroups. I also looked at attendance, retention, attrition, in-school suspension rates, out-of-school suspension rates, graduation data, and dropout data. The proven provider analysis can be found at Tab B with other information regarding the proposed Hampden Charter School of Science - West. Please refer to the review sheets for the specific data considered in determining proven provider status.

Determining that an entity meets the requirements of a proven provider does not automatically mean that the existing board of trustees has demonstrated the capacity to create a network of successful, high quality charter schools. The Department separately considers the criteria for approval and the capacity of an existing board of trustees and proposed network leadership to manage and operate effectively a network of high quality charter schools.

Recommendation for Hampden Charter School of Science - West (Tab B)

The board of trustees of Hampden Charter School of Science5 proposes to open an additional Commonwealth charter school that will locate in Westfield and serve residents of Westfield, Holyoke, Agawam, and West Springfield in grades 6-12. Like the existing school, the proposed school intends to provide a college-preparatory education with a mathematics and science focus. The educational program will include project-based instruction and an extended curriculum in mathematics, science, and computer technology. Students will receive individualized academic support and college guidance. The applicant group has also committed to accept new students in grades 6-10, which exceeds the statutory requirement to fill vacancies. The applicant group has identified the leader of the existing school as the proposed chief executive for the network and has identified other staff members at the existing school for other key network positions, including the chief academic officer, the dean of special services, and the network curriculum coordinators. The proposed school intends to open for the 2018-2019 school year.

The superintendents of the proposed school's sending districts, Agawam, Holyoke, West Springfield, and Westfield, were invited to submit public comment on the school's application. No written comment was received. The Department received a letter in opposition from Michele Crane, chair of the Gateway Regional School Committee, a school district outside of the school's charter region; and a member of the Westfield School Committee, Cynthia Sullivan, spoke in opposition at the public hearing. Additional public comment, both in support and opposition, was submitted by community members residing within the proposed region and outside of the proposed region. Please see the attached public comment under Tab B. Please see pages 1-2 of the evidence summary under Tab B for additional information regarding statements made at the public hearing.

I recommend that the Board grant a charter to the board of trustees of Hampden Charter School of Science - West.

Recommendation for Map Academy Charter School (Tab C)

This is a proposal for a new Commonwealth charter high school that will locate in Plymouth and serve residents of Plymouth, Carver, and Wareham. The proposed school intends to serve students who have dropped out of school or who are at risk of dropping out of school, providing them with "the knowledge, mindsets, and skills to meet the high standards necessary for postsecondary education and meaningful employment." The school plans to establish a highly supportive school culture and to offer a personalized educational experience through the use of individualized learning plans, a flexible schedule, and a competency-based curriculum. The school also plans to offer career development opportunities, and will require students to successfully complete English and mathematics courses at Quincy College in Plymouth. The proposed high school will admit students across all traditional high school grade levels within its competency based program, which exceeds the statutory requirement to fill vacancies. The applicant group includes proposed co-directors for the school and a proposed dean of culture. The proposed school intends to open for the 2018-2019 school year.

The superintendents of the proposed sending districts, Carver, Plymouth, and Wareham, were invited to submit public comment on the school's application. The Department did not receive testimony or written comment in opposition during the public hearing and public comment process. At the public hearing, State Representative Mathew Muratore; Superintendent Gary Maestas of Plymouth Public Schools; Assistant Dean Laura Buckley of Quincy College Plymouth; and teachers, parents, community members, and members of the applicant group spoke in support of the proposed school. Written public comment was also submitted in support of the proposed school. Please see the attached public comment under Tab C. Please see pages 1-2 of the evidence summary under Tab C for additional information regarding statements made at the public hearing.

I recommend that the Board grant a charter to the board of trustees of Map Academy Charter School.

Recommendation for Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School (Tab D)

This is a proposal for a new Commonwealth charter school that will locate in Sturbridge and serve residents of Sturbridge, Brimfield, Brookfield, Holland, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Spencer-East Brookfield, Wales, and Webster in grades K-8. The proposed school intends to offer project-based learning, a culture of high expectations, an emphasis on character development, and daily access to museum resources at Old Sturbridge Village. The applicant group has committed to accept new students in all grades, which exceeds the statutory requirement to fill vacancies.

The board proposes to contract with Old Sturbridge Village as a charter management organization to support the management and operation of the school. As part of the management agreement, the chief executive officer of Old Sturbridge Village, who previously founded and led a charter school in Rhode Island, will serve as executive director of the proposed school in order to support school leadership and manage services provided by the museum to the school. The applicant group has also partnered with EL Education, a school support organization, for support with the development and implementation of the proposed educational program. The applicant group includes a proposed director of teaching and learning who will report directly to the board of trustees. The proposed school intends to open for the 2017-2018 school year.

The superintendents of the proposed sending districts, Brimfield, Brookfield, Holland, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Spencer-East Brookfield, Sturbridge, Wales, and Webster, were invited to submit public comment on the application. The Department received a letter in opposition from Richard Lind, Jr., Webster Interim Superintendent, and members of the Webster School Committee. Additional public comment from community members within the proposed region was submitted in support of the proposed school. Please see the attached public comment under Tab D. Please see pages 1-2 of the evidence summary under Tab D for additional information regarding statements made at the public hearing.

This is the second application of the Old Sturbridge group, and the Department has observed considerable growth in the group's capacity and ability to address the prior concerns identified by the Department. This year, the applicant group sufficiently responded to previous Department feedback regarding supports for diverse learners and provided clear evidence that the group is reflective about its proposed program and demonstrates continuous improvement in its approach to planning and preparation for the proposed school.

I recommend that the Board grant a charter to the board of trustees of Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School.

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Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner; Alison Bagg, Director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign; and Alyssa Hopkins, School Development Manager, will be at your meeting in February to assist with the discussion. In the meantime, if you need any additional information, please contact Cliff (781-338-3222), Alison (781-338-3218), or me.

Attachments:

Motion for Board Action on Hampden Charter School of Science - West

Motion for Board Action on Map Academy Charter School

Motion for Board Action on Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School

Tab A - List of the public hearings held in November and December 2016; List of the external and internal reviewers who reviewed prospectuses and charter applications; Memorandum detailing the charter application review process and the criteria for review.

Tab B - Hampden Charter School of Science - West (executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group; list of the proposed members of the school's board of trustees and proposed employees; summary of the interview with the founding group; summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process; a summary of the applicant's credentials as a proven provider; and written public comment.)

Tab C - Map Academy Charter School (executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group; list of the proposed members of the school's board of trustees and proposed employees; summary of the interview with the founding group; summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process; and written public comment.)

Tab D - Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School (executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group; list of the proposed members of the school's board of trustees and proposed employees; summary of the interview with the founding group; summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process; and written public comment.)

Tab E - Equity Lab Charter School (executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group; summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process)

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Last Updated: February 23, 2017
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