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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools — Recommendation for New Charter School

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:
February 16, 2018

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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 recommendation with respect to pending applications.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received three prospectuses for Commonwealth charter schools in August 2017. Of the three prospectuses received, I invited one of the applicant groups to submit a final application. The Department additionally received a letter of intent from the board of trustees of two Commonwealth charter schools that are currently operating, Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Chelsea (Phoenix Academy Chelsea), and Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Springfield (Phoenix Academy Springfield). Because this board of trustees currently operates two charter schools in Massachusetts, it was not required to submit a prospectus, and the Department invited it to submit a final application to open a third Commonwealth charter school, Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence (Phoenix Charter Lawrence). The Department received both final applications in November 2017, and the two proposed schools are listed in the table that follows.

Proposed Charter School NameDistricts to be ServedGrade SpanMax EnrollmentProposed Opening Date
Equity Lab Charter SchoolLynn5–126402018
Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, LawrenceLawrence, Haverhill, Methuen9–122502018

I recommend that the Board grant a charter to the Phoenix Charter Lawrence. A motion is attached for your consideration.

The application for Equity Lab Charter School substantially met the criteria for approval, but I am not recommending the award of a charter to that group due to the net school spending caps applicable to the proposed sending district, the Lynn Public Schools. I provide a detailed explanation of the statutory factors in the informational memorandum entitled "Charter Schools — Charter Authorizing in Lynn under Net School Spending Caps," which is included with your briefing materials.

The Review Process for Charter Applications

The Department conducted a multi-step review of the charter applications. Phoenix Charter Lawrence substantially met the criteria for approval as set forth in the statute and the Board's regulations. The review process included the components that follow.

  • An advisory panel, including both Department staff and external reviewers, reviewed each application. Panel members first reviewed each application on their own using the application criteria. Then the panel met as a group to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each application and to suggest questions for the interview with the applicant group.

  • In December, two public hearings were held in the districts where the charter schools propose to locate. Two 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 school that I am recommending are provided in the attachments.

  • In January, the Department conducted interviews with both applicant groups that focused 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 December 2017;
  • 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.

Under Tab B is the following information for Phoenix Charter Lawrence:

  • 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 applicant 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; and
  • written public comment.

Under Tab C is the following information for Equity Lab Charter School:

  • an executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group; and
  • a summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process

The final applications for each charter school can be accessed on the Department's website at Public Hearings Scheduled on Final Applications for Two Charter Schools.

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.1 The proposed region for Phoenix Charter Lawrence includes two districts identified as performing in the lowest 10 percent of all school districts, Lawrence and Haverhill. Because the current enrollment of Haverhill residents in Commonwealth charter schools is less than 4 percent of NSS, enrollment at the proposed school would not cause Haverhill to exceed the 9 percent NSS cap.

I determined that the board of trustees of Phoenix Academy Chelsea and Phoenix Academy Springfield (Phoenix board) qualifies as a proven provider. This is also the determination that former Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester reached in February 2013, when he recommended and the Board awarded a charter to establish Phoenix Academy Springfield.

In determining the current eligibility of the Phoenix board for proven provider status, I examined the performance of Phoenix Academy Chelsea and Phoenix Academy Springfield against a comparison set of traditional high schools and a similar comparison set of alternative high schools. For additional context, I also looked at the performance of Phoenix Academy Lawrence, a district school managed by the Phoenix Foundation through a contract with Lawrence Public Schools.2 I reviewed student proficiency levels and growth measures for the past five years on the English language arts and mathematics state assessment tests for all students and student subgroups. I also reviewed attendance, retention, attrition, in-school suspension rates, out-of-school suspension rates, graduation data, and dropout data. I considered evidence of the existing schools' success in each of the three accountability areas: academic program success, organizational viability, and faithfulness to the terms of its charter. The proven provider analysis can be found at Tab B with other information regarding the proposed Phoenix Charter Lawrence.

Determining that an entity qualifies as a proven provider does not automatically mean that the applicant group has demonstrated the capacity to create a high-quality charter school. The Department separately considers evidence of the applicant group's capacity identified through the Department's application review process, including an interview with the applicant group.

Recommendation for Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence

The Phoenix board seeks a third charter for a regional school located in Lawrence to serve residents of Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen. Like the existing Phoenix schools, the proposed school will offer a program intended to serve students who are at risk of dropping out of school or who previously dropped out of school. Students will receive both rigorous academic instruction and high levels of support in order to prepare them for success in college and in life. The proposed high school will admit students across all traditional high school grade levels and up to age 21.

Phoenix Academy Chelsea serves residents of Chelsea, Everett, Revere, and Lynn. The school opened in 2006 with a maximum enrollment of 225 students in grades 9–12. The Board has twice renewed the charter of Phoenix Academy Chelsea.

Phoenix Academy Springfield serves residents of Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke. The school opened in 2014 with a maximum enrollment of 250 students in grades 9–12. The charter of Phoenix Academy Springfield is eligible for its first renewal next year.

The proposed Phoenix Charter Lawrence will largely be staffed by current staff members at Phoenix Academy Lawrence, the alternative high school in Lawrence. This includes the proposed school leader and other key members of the school leadership team. Phoenix Academy Lawrence will close at the end of the current school year and be replaced by Phoenix Charter Lawrence. The proposed school intends to open for the 2018-2019 school year with an enrollment of 175 students in order to serve all students currently enrolled at Phoenix Academy Lawrence3 who do not graduate at the end of the current school year; and to enroll new students from Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen.

The superintendents of the proposed school's sending districts, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen, were invited to submit public comment on the school's application. The Department received public comment in support of Phoenix Charter Lawrence from Superintendent Jeffrey C. Riley of Lawrence Public Schools, the current receiver, and from Superintendent James F. Scully of Haverhill Public Schools. Additional public comment was received in support of the proposed school. The Department did not receive public comment in opposition to the proposed school. Please see the attached public comment under Tab B. Please see pages 1–2 of the evidence summary under Tab B for a description of testimony received during the public hearing.

Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner; Alison Bagg, Director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign; Alyssa Hopkins, School Development Manager; and Patrick Buckwalter, School Development and Accountability Specialist, will be at your meeting on February 27 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 Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence.

 
Tab A
Download Word Document
List of the public hearings held in December 2017
Download Word Document
List of the external and internal reviewers who reviewed prospectuses and charter applications
Download Word Document
Memorandum detailing the charter application review process and the criteria for review
Download Word Document
2017-2018 Charter Final Application Outline and Criteria for Current Boards of Trustees
Download Word Document
2017-2018 Charter Final Application Outline and Criteria Proposed Operators

 
Tab B — Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence (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; summary of the applicant's credentials as a proven provider; and written public comment.)
Download Word Document
Phoenix Charter Lawrence Executive Summary
Download Word Document
Phoenix Charter Academy Network Board and Proposed Key Employees
Download Word Document
Phoenix Charter Lawrence Interview Summary
Download Word Document
Phoenix Charter Lawrence Evidence Summary
Download Excel Document
Phoenix Proven Provider Summary

 
Tab C — Equity Lab Charter School (executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group; and summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process.)
Download Word Document
Equity Lab Charter School Executive Summary
Download Word Document
Equity Lab Charter School Evidence Summary

 

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Last Updated: February 20, 2018
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