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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Recommendations on New Charter School Applications

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
February 16, 2012

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In this 2011-2012 charter school application cycle, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received seven prospectuses in July 2011. Following a review of these prospectuses by the Department's staff and external reviewers, I invited all seven applicant groups to submit final applications. One subsequently withdrew from the process. The six final applications that were considered include:

Proposed School
Name
Districts to be ServedProposed Grade SpanProposed Max Enrollment
Baystate Academy Charter School Springfield 6-12560
Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School (Horace Mann)BostonK1-5325
Lowell Collegiate Charter SchoolLowellK-121,200
Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School Holyoke, West Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, South Hadley, and Northampton9-12500
Somerville Progressive Charter School SomervilleK-8425+
Springfield Preparatory Charter School Springfield 5-121,070

I am recommending approval of four applications: Baystate Academy Charter School, Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, Lowell Collegiate Charter School, and Paulo Freire Social. I am not recommending Springfield Preparatory Charter School and Somerville Progressive Charter School for new charters.

The Achievement Gap legislation enacted in January 2010 (Chapter 12 of the Acts of 2010) raised the charter school cap in the lowest performing school districts and made a number of changes to the authorizing process. This memorandum summarizes (a) the review and approval process as we have implemented it in accordance with Chapter 12; and (b) my recommendations with respect to each of the final applications.

The Final Application Review Process

The Department's Charter School Office conducted a multi-step review of the final 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 following:

  • Each application was reviewed by an advisory panel that included both Department staff and external reviewers. Panel members individually reviewed each application based on the published evaluation criteria, and then the entire panel met to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each application and suggest questions for the interview with the applicant group.

  • Five public hearings were held in the districts where the proposed charter schools would be located. One or more members of the Board attended each hearing. All hearings were videotaped, and Board members who wish to view any of the tapes should contact Lee DeLorenzo in the Charter School Office (781-338-3224).

  • Written comments from the public were solicited at each of the hearings and through the Department's website. The superintendent and school committee in each proposed district also were directed to the application links on the Department's website and were invited to comment. All written public comments have been compiled onto a CD-ROM, a copy of which is included with this briefing book.

  • Interviews were conducted with members of the founding groups and proposed boards of trustees, focusing on the concerns and questions raised in the panel review and public hearings.

  • Department staff prepared a comprehensive, criteria-based summary of the primary strengths and weaknesses of each proposed application.

  • When required, the Department's Data Analysis and Reporting unit assembled data to evaluate applicants' proven provider status. This analysis includes academic performance; other indicators such as graduation rates, suspension rates, and student mobility; and demographic comparisons.

  • I held a series of meetings with Charter School Office staff, Deputy General Counsel Kristin McIntosh, and Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each application when judged against the application criteria and to discuss the data analysis relating to proven provider status.

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

  • a memorandum detailing the statutory and regulatory framework for the proven provider determinations, and explanations of the metrics used in the analysis;
  • a list of the public hearings held in December 2011;
  • a list of the reviewers for the prospectuses and final applications; and
  • a memorandum detailing the charter application review process and the criteria for review.

Tabs B through G contain the following information specific to each proposal:

  • an executive summary of the proposal, written by the founding group;
  • a list of the members of the founding group and the proposed members of the school's board of trustees;
  • a summary of the final interview with the founding group;
  • the Final Application Review, a summary of the application's primary strengths and weaknesses prepared by the Charter School Office;
  • where required, a summary of the applicant's credentials as a proven provider; and
  • for schools where I am recommending the award of a new charter, a proposed motion for Board action.

As I notified you last month, the full applications can be accessed on the Department's website.

Proven Provider Review

The charter school statute requires that applicants are "proven providers" when seeking a charter in districts where the net school spending cap is being lifted. As discussed in more detail in the accompanying memorandum, the Board's regulations allow for a variety of organizational arrangements to meet this requirement. Last year, most of the applicants for proven provider status were boards of trustees of single existing Commonwealth charter schools. As a result, we were able to conduct a straightforward analysis of the existing school's performance, both in the aggregate and with subgroups. The applicants for proven provider status this year include individuals with past experience in other charter schools; an education management organization that manages multiple schools; and a school support organization that supports multiple schools.

In evaluating academic performance, I look at proficiency levels and student growth percentiles in the aggregate and for subgroups based on MCAS results in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics; graduation and dropout rates in the case of high schools; and student mobility data. As required by our regulations, we continue to set a high standard by comparing past performance with the state as a whole and not just with the host district. In evaluating providers with multiple schools, I expect to see clear evidence of solid performance in some, but not necessarily all schools, recognizing that there are multiple factors that can affect a school's performance.

Focus on Special Populations

The charter school statute encourages charter schools to better serve under-represented populations, including low income students, English language learners, and students receiving special education services. In reviewing applications for new schools, we assess the capacity of the applicant group to address the particular needs of these students. In the case of proven providers, we look to the applicant's past performance in serving these special populations. Consistent with decisions from last year's discussion of proven providers, we do not rule out applicants whose track record is based on schools with smaller proportions of special populations than the target proportion in the applicant district or region.

Based on our experience in last year's application cycle, we tried to provide better guidance in the charter application instructions this year to clarify the criteria related to special student populations. As a result, our application reviewers noted that the responses tended to be clearer and more detailed than last year. As with all other areas of the application, the Department's evaluation identifies both strengths and weaknesses. In assessing the relative merits of each application, we try to distinguish between significant deficiencies versus those shortcomings that could easily be addressed during the planning period, which in some cases is a year-and-a-half. Ultimately, of course, our success in meeting these goals will be measured by the number and performance of students actually served.

Summary of Commissioner's Recommendations

While all applications have strengths and weaknesses, the proposals I am recommending 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. The schools I am recommending for a charter have a strong likelihood of success in closing the achievement gap and improving public education in Massachusetts. Please refer to the Final Application Review sheet for each school for the detailed description and evaluation.

I am pleased to note that three of the four recommended schools are located in gateway municipalities as defined in G.L. c. 23A, § 3A ("a municipality with a population greater than 35,000 and less than 250,000, a median household income below the commonwealth's average and a rate of educational attainment of a bachelor's degree or above that is below the commonwealth's average"). As you may recall, last year's applicant group was heavily focused on Boston. We made a concerted effort this year to encourage proposals in gateway municipalities, and I hope that trend will continue in future years.

Baystate Academy Charter School (Tab B)

Springfield
Grades 6-12
Maximum enrollment: 560
Anticipated opening: 2013-2014

This is a proposal for a new Commonwealth charter school using the Expeditionary Learning (EL) model with a college preparatory, health careers orientation. The applicants' request for proven provider status is based upon the track record of EL, a national school support organization with a network of over 165 schools. In Massachusetts, EL currently works with nine different public schools. We looked closely at the data for the six schools that served comparable grades to the proposed school, specifically middle and high school, and who had been working with EL for at least four years. EL programs in Massachusetts charter schools demonstrated student academic achievement for the aggregate that is similar to or above statewide averages in proficiency levels and growth for both ELA and mathematics. While EL charter schools have mixed results for some subgroups, on average subgroup performance is similar to or above statewide averages in proficiency levels for ELA and mathematics. I recommend approval of this application.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School - Horace Mann (Tab C)

Boston
Grades K1-5
Maximum enrollment: 325
Anticipated opening: 2012-2013

This proposal for a Horace Mann III charter school in Boston, housed in the former Emerson school, has a special focus on literacy and early childhood education. The founding group proposes to partner with the Boston Plan for Excellence and the Boston Teachers Residency program in order to create a rich training ground for new teachers. The proposal is supported by Boston Superintendent Carol Johnson and by the Boston School Committee. Because it is a Horace Mann proposal, proven provider status is not required. I recommend approval.

Lowell Collegiate Charter School (Tab D)

Lowell
Grades K-12
Maximum enrollment: 1,200
Anticipated opening: 2013-2014

This is a proposal for a new Commonwealth charter school with a college preparatory focus, to be managed and operated by SABIS Educational Systems. As is our practice with any application involving an education management organization (EMO), we looked for evidence in the application and the interview that the prospective trustees understands and has a strong commitment to their oversight role. The applicants' request for proven provider status is based upon the track record of SABIS, an international EMO that currently operates 8 charter schools in the United States, including two in Massachusetts (SABIS International Charter School in Springfield and Holyoke Community Charter School in Holyoke). At the SABIS Springfield school, which like the proposed Lowell school serves grades K-12, student proficiency levels in the aggregate and for key subgroups was similar to or above statewide averages in proficiency levels and growth for both ELA and mathematics. At both the Springfield and Holyoke schools, the student growth percentile, in the aggregate and for key subgroups, is similar to or above statewide averages in both ELA and mathematics. I recommend approval.

Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School (Tab E)

Regional school serving Holyoke, Chicopee, West Springfield, Westfield, South Hadley, and Northampton
Grades 9-12
Maximum Enrollment: 500
Anticipated Opening: 2012-2013

This is a proposal for a new Commonwealth regional charter school focused on college success, social responsibility, and leadership development. This school was first proposed last year but not recommended for approval at that time. The applicants' request for proven provider status is based upon the track record of two individuals, Bob Brick and Ljuba Marsh, who previously founded and co-lead the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA) from 1996-2007. During the period from 2005 to 2008, PVPA demonstrated student academic achievement, in the aggregate and for key subgroups, that is similar to or above statewide averages in proficiency levels and growth for ELA and mathematics. The quality of the application has improved significantly since last year, and so I recommend approval.

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As a result of the review process, I determined that the following two proposals need further development and revision with respect to a substantial portion of the charter school approval criteria. These applicant groups will be invited to participate in a debriefing session with Charter School Office staff to receive detailed feedback on their applications.

Somerville Progressive Charter School (grades K-8 in Somerville) (Tab F)

This proposal for a new Commonwealth charter school did not sufficiently meet the criteria for approval. Many aspects of the educational program, fiscal operations, and management are not well defined. It is not clear that the founding group had the capacity to establish and manage a charter school. Because I am not recommending approval, we did not complete the proven provider analysis for this application.

Springfield Preparatory Charter School (grades 5-12 in Springfield) (Tab G)

This proposal for a new Commonwealth charter school did not sufficiently meet the criteria for approval. The central concern revolves around the capacity of the proposed board of trustees. The applicant group did not evidence an understanding and commitment to the oversight role that they would be expected to play when employing an EMO. Though the applicant group demonstrates a strong commitment to the SABIS educational model, based on the track record of the SABIS International Charter School in Springfield, I did not feel that they have the experience and qualifications necessary to implement the proposal. Because I am not recommending approval, we did not complete the proven provider analysis for this application.

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Jeff Wulfson, deputy commissioner; Marlon Davis, director of charter schools; and Ruth Hersh, coordinator of new school development will be available during your discussion to answer any questions you may have.

Enclosures

Tab A
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
List of Reviewers
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Public Hearing on Final Charter School Applications, 2011-2012
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Charter Application Review Process and Criteria for Review
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Proven Provider Explanations and Definitions
Baystate Academy (Tab B)
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
List of Founders and Proposed Board of Trustees
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Interview Summary
 
Proven Provider Status
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Codman Academy
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Four Rivers

Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Final Application Review
Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School (Tab C)
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
List of Founders and Proposed Board of Trustees
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Interview Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Final Application Review
Lowell Collegiate Charter School (Tab D)
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
List of Founders and Proposed Board of Trustees
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Interview Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Proven Provider Status
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Final Application Review
Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School (Tab E)
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
List of Founders and Proposed Board of Trustees
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Interview Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Proven Provider Status
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Final Application Review
Somerville Progressive Charter School (Tab F)
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
List of Founders and Proposed Board of Trustees
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Interview Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Final Application Review
Springfield Preparatory Charter School (Tab G)
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
List of Founders and Proposed Board of Trustees
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Interview Summary
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Final Application Review


Last Updated: February 27, 2012
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