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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools - Amendment Request of Alma del Mar Charter School (Enrollment)

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
February 17, 2017

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Pursuant to the Charter School Regulations, 603 CMR 1.10(1), the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) must approve changes in the maximum enrollment of Commonwealth and Horace Mann charter schools. This year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received requests from fifteen charter schools to increase enrollment. This month, I recommend that the Board approve amendment requests from three Commonwealth charter schools and one Horace Mann charter school. Each recommendation is outlined in a separate memorandum for your review. This memorandum details the request from the board of trustees of Alma del Mar Charter School (AdM), a K-8 school serving students in New Bedford, and my recommendation.

The Department's assessment of AdM's request is described below, in preparation for a discussion and vote at the Board's meeting in February. The memorandum is organized into the following sections: (1) the school's request and plan for implementation; (2) the Department's review; (3) proven provider consideration; (4) public comment; and (5) a recommendation for growth. The following information is attached to this memorandum for your review:

  • the original amendment request and additional materials subsequently submitted by the school, as applicable;
  • a summary of the school's credentials as a proven provider, including a summary of the school's academic performance, student demographics, attrition rates, and five-year financial summary; and
  • public comment.

An overview of the terms of the school's charter follows.

Alma del Mar Charter School (AdM)
Type of Charter
(Commonwealth or Horace Mann)
Commonwealth LocationNew Bedford
Regional or Non-Regional?Non-Regional Districts in RegionN/A
Year Opened2011 Year(s) Renewed2016
Maximum Enrollment360 Current Enrollment3241
Chartered Grade SpanK-8 Current Grade SpanK-7
Students on Waitlist4652 Current Age of School6 years
Mission Statement

Alma del Mar Charter School is an inclusive, K-8 Expeditionary Learning school that puts New Bedford students on a college trajectory and challenges them to be service-oriented leaders. By engaging in a rigorous academic program with an emphasis on meaningful work, our students will master essential skills and content, take ownership of their learning and think boldly while addressing complex academic and community issues.

School's Request and Plan for Implementation

The board of trustees of Alma del Mar Charter School (AdM) requests approval of an amendment to increase its maximum enrollment by 90 students to reach a maximum enrollment of 450 students in grades K-8. The school previously submitted this request in 2015, prior to its renewal in 2016. I recommend approval of this request.

The school reports that approval of its request would support AdM's efforts to meet the needs of all students and to improve student learning. The school plans to use the additional revenue to implement programmatic improvements for students, including targeted staffing additions to support students with disabilities and students identified as English learners. AdM intends to add a mathematics specialist for upper grades, a school counselor, and to transition the teacher for English as a Second Language from part time to full time. The school also plans to increase staffing at kindergarten and first grade in order to implement an additional section and create class sizes that do not exceed 20 students.

AdM seeks to grow to 450 students over three years with the majority of new students, approximately 74 students, added across all grades in the first year of implementation in 2017-2018. The school intends to increase the number of students per grade by 10 students. AdM has also committed to continue to accept new students in all grades, which exceeds the statutory requirement to fill vacancies.

The school's current facility will accommodate two additional classrooms in kindergarten and first grade and the increased enrollment across the K-8 grade span.

Department Review

Section 1.10 of the Charter School Regulations contains several criteria to consider in determining whether to grant a school's request to amend its charter. The Department's comprehensive review was based upon these criteria.

The Department's review included the following considerations:

  • the charter school's compliance with applicable state, federal, and local law;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the faithfulness of the school to the terms of its charter, including the extent to which the school has followed its recruitment and retention plan and has disseminated best practices;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the success of the school's academic program;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the viability of the school as an organization;
  • the merits of the school's amendment request when judged against the criteria outlined in the Department's Charter Amendment and Notification Guidelines Download MS WORD Document and the Charter School Performance Criteria Download PDF Document;
  • the eligibility of the board of trustees for proven provider status based upon the criteria described in 603 CMR 1.04(4); and
  • the public comment received regarding the request.

Overall, the Department's records indicate that AdM's academic program is a success, that the school is a viable organization, and that it is faithful to the terms of its charter.

  • AdM has not yet been assigned an accountability level status based on its four years of student data.3 AdM, however, was assigned a school percentile of 33 and met the Progress and Performance Index (PPI) target for all students with a PPI of 83 in 2016. The school achieved a PPI of 68 for the high needs subgroup in 2016. While falling short of PPI targets in the high needs subgroup in 2016, the school has demonstrated strong achievement levels for students identified as economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities in comparison with the performance of the same student subgroups at the district and state levels.

  • AdM administered MCAS in 2013 and 2014. MCAS scores are designated by levels of proficiency, with proficient and advanced levels meeting or exceeding performance standards, respectively. The percent of AdM students identified as proficient or advanced in English language arts (ELA) increased from 49 percent in 2013 to 56 percent in 2014, above the sending district average in comparable grades in both years and meeting the statewide average in 2014. The percent of AdM students identified as proficient or advanced in mathematics was 79 percent in 2013 and 65 percent in 2014, exceeding both the sending district and state averages in comparable grades.

  • AdM administered online PARCC in 2015 and 2016. PARCC scores are designated by Levels, with Levels 4 and 5 meeting or exceeding expectations, respectively. The performance of AdM students increased between its first and second year of administering PARCC. In 2015, 47 percent of AdM students received a Level 4 or 5 in English language arts (ELA), which increased to 66 percent in 2016. In 2015, 57 percent of students received a Level 4 or 5 in mathematics, which increased to 63 percent in 2016.

  • Overall, AdM has demonstrated success in the recruitment of a student population comparable to its sending district, including gains in its enrollment of students with disabilities since opening in 2011. See attachments for proven provider credentials. During the current 2016-2017 school year, 40 percent of the school's kindergarten students are identified as English learners in comparison to 36 percent of kindergarten students enrolled in New Bedford Public Schools. Similarly, 63 percent of AdM's current kindergarten students are identified as economically disadvantaged in comparison to 69 percent of New Bedford's students in kindergarten.

  • AdM implements a variety of systems and structures to support positive school climate and culture. AdM is part of the network of schools supported by EL Education, formerly known as Expeditionary Learning, and implements programming reflecting its five commitments: persistence, integrity, quality, accountability, and service. AdM performs daily morning meetings in the lower school, crew meetings in the upper grades, and weekly all-school meetings. During daily meetings, students engage in curriculum targeted to address social-emotional development and build strong peer relationships. During weekly town hall, teachers and students recognize individual students for demonstrating one of the five commitments during the previous week.

  • The school has demonstrated low rates of attrition and discipline over its first charter term. The school's overall rate of attrition decreased from approximately 8.3 percent in 2013 to approximately 3.4 percent in 2016. The school has also seen a general decline in its discipline rates during its first charter term; in-school and out-of-school suspension rates in 2015 were approximately 6.1 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. In 2016, the out-of-school suspension rate dropped to 0 percent. AdM incorrectly reported an in-school suspension rate of 24.1 percent for 2016 and did not identify their erroneous reporting until after the deadline for corrections had passed. During the process for amendment review, the school leader reported the school's in-school suspension rate was 9 percent, not 24.1 percent, in 2016. The school leader indicated that the mistake in reporting was due to data entry performed by staff that recorded all interactions with the dean, regardless of the outcome, as suspensions. The school's discussion of this reporting error is included in the attachments.

  • AdM was successfully renewed in 2016. The Department recognized the school for its exemplary work in family engagement with a rating of Exceeds in this area of the Charter School Performance Criteria. The school received a rating of Meets in all other areas of performance with two exceptions, Compliance and Student Performance. At the time of the school's renewal, the Department identified two teachers who had not completed testing requirements for MTEL4 and the school had not met PPI targets in 2014 and 2015.

  • As noted in its 2016 renewal and evidenced by the current fiscal dashboard, AdM has maintained sound and stable financial conditions and demonstrated a consistent history of strong performance on key financial metrics. The school received unqualified audit opinions for all years of its first charter term. The school resolved instances of noncompliance in fiscal years 2012 and 2014.

  • The school submitted a similar request for additional seats in 2015 during its renewal year. The request was not recommended for Board approval. At the time of the 2015 request, the Department noted that AdM was completing its first charter term and, after a decline in performance on the school's first administration of the online version of PARCC in 2015, the Department required an additional year of assessment data as evidence of the school's track record of performance.

Proven Provider Consideration

Proven provider status5 is required to award additional seats to AdM. New Bedford Public Schools performs in the lowest 10 percent of all school districts based on state assessment test scores in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. As a result, up to 18 percent of New Bedford's net school spending (NSS) may be allocated to charter school tuition.6 The Department has determined that New Bedford has approximately 1,126 seats available under the 18 percent NSS cap.

After evaluating the performance of AdM against the criteria for proven provider status, I identified the board of trustees of AdM as a proven provider for the purposes of the current amendment request. Included in your materials are the relevant student achievement and indicator data used to determine that the board of trustees of AdM is eligible for proven provider status. Pursuant to 603 CMR 1.04(4)(b), the award of proven provider status to an existing board of trustees must include successful student academic performance over a three-year period. This is measured by using proficiency/achievement levels and growth measures on the state assessment test or equivalent assessments for English language arts and mathematics in comparable grades for all students and for one or more targeted subgroups. The Department compares the school's student performance data to statewide averages and to relevant district averages for the grades served by the charter school.

Public Comment

At the time of the school's submission to the Department, AdM also submitted copies of its request to Superintendent Pia Durkin of New Bedford Public Schools, pursuant to 603 CMR 1.10(5). The Department subsequently solicited written comments from Superintendent Durkin. No comment was received. The Department received letters in support of the school's request from community stakeholders, including current and prospective members of the school community. Comments are attached.

Recommendation for Growth

I have reviewed the school's request, and it appears reasonable and consistent with the charter school statute and regulations. Overall, the amendment request, renewal of the school's charter in 2016, and the Department's accountability records indicate that the school's academic program is a success, that the school is a viable organization, and that it has been faithful to the terms of its charter. I recommend that the Board approve the request. A motion for approval is attached for your consideration.

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If you have any questions regarding this amendment or require additional information, please contact Alison Bagg, Director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign (781-338-3218); Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); or me.

Attachments:

 
Correspondence from Alma del Mar Charter School, including supplemental documentation related to error in school's 2016 report of in-school suspensions
Download MS EXCEL Document
Alma del Mar Charter School's Academic Performance Data, Student Enrollment Demographics, Student Attrition Rates, and Five Year Financial Summary
 
Public Comment
 
Motion for Board Action on Alma del Mar Charter School

Note:

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Last Updated: February 23, 2017
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