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Request for Review of Amendment Decision - Conservatory Lab Charter School

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
February 17, 2012


The Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS) is a Commonwealth charter school located in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston. The school was chartered in 1999. Currently the school is chartered to serve grades K1 through 6 with a maximum enrollment of 169 students.

On July 25, 2011, CLCS submitted a request to amend the school's charter to add 30 additional seats and two additional grades (7 and 8). On December 2, 2011, I notified the school that I had denied their request. Under the Board's charter school regulations [603 CMR 1.11(6)], a charter school may ask the Board to review a decision by the Commissioner to deny an amendment request. The school notified me on January 27, 2012, that it wished to seek such a review, and so the matter now comes before you.

CLCS's charter was last renewed in 2009. At that time, the Board imposed conditions relating to the implementation of the school's educational program and to the provision of adequate facilities. In the summer of 2010, after the enactment of legislation raising the cap in Boston and certain other districts, CLCS requested an amendment to add 286 seats and 3 grades (6-8). At the February 2011 Board meeting, I reported that the school had successfully met the conditions attached to its renewal, and the Board voted to remove the conditions. However, I did not recommend approval of the amendment request. Even with the cap lift, we had more requests for seats in Boston than we could accommodate, and in my view the CLCS request was not as strong as some of the other requests under consideration. CLCS asked for a review of my decision at the March 2011 Board meeting and offered a scaled-back proposal of 15 additional seats and one additional grade (6). This revised proposal received my recommendation and your approval.

Due to the cap limits, the Department notified potential applicants for charter seats in Boston that we would not consider requests in the 2011-2012 cycle. Nevertheless, CLCS did submit an amendment request for additional seats this past summer. I denied the request because I believe it would be unfair to award any new Boston seats this year, even a small number, without giving all interested schools the opportunity to compete.

My decision is not in any way a reflection on CLCS and its program. As I said during last year's discussion, CLCS's Learning Through Music curriculum, based on the internationally recognized El Sistema program, is the type of innovative program that we want charter schools to demonstrate. There is extremely strong support for the program among parents and in the community, including support from a number of performing arts organizations. Efforts to improve the school's performance, both academically and organizationally, have accelerated since the appointment of veteran educator Diana Lam as the head of school. The school serves a significant number of English language learners - 33.9% of its students are classified as first language not English, and 21.1% are classified as limited English proficient. I hope that we will be able to reopen the competition for seats in Boston in the next year or two, so that we may evaluate CLCS's request on its merits.

For the requested review that is before you this month, the Board's options are to:

  • approve the school's amendment request, notwithstanding the Commissioner's objections;
  • deny the amendment request; or
  • take no formal action, in which case the Commissioner's denial stands.

I am enclosing copies of the school's amendment request, my denial letter, and the school's request for a review by the Board. In accordance with our normal procedures, the superintendent of the Boston public schools was given the opportunity to comment on this amendment request; we did not receive any comments from the district.


Last Updated: February 23, 2012
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