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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 13, 2015

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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 charter application review process and my recommendations with respect to pending applications.

In November 2014, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received final applications to establish four charter schools. Below is a summary of the four charter applications that were submitted.

Proposed School NameType of CharterDistricts to be ServedGrade SpanMax Enrollment
Academy for the Whole Child Charter SchoolCommonwealthFitchburg, Athol-Royalston, Clinton, Gardner, Leominster, Orange, WinchendonK-4360
Bentley Academy Charter SchoolHorace Mann IIISalemK-5350
New Heights Charter School of BrocktonCommonwealthBrockton6-13840
UP Academy Charter School of SpringfieldHorace Mann IIISpringfield6-8800

I recommend that the Board grant two charters for Horace Mann charter schools: Bentley Academy Charter School and UP Academy Charter School of Springfield. 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. The schools I am recommending for a charter have a strong likelihood of success in closing the achievement gap and in improving public education in Massachusetts.

I am not recommending the Academy for the Whole Child Charter School or New Heights Charter School of Brockton for new charters. As a result of the review process, I determined that these proposals require further development and revision with respect to the charter school approval criteria. These applicant groups will be invited to participate in a debriefing session with the Department to further explain the detailed feedback on their applications. Included in the attachments are an executive summary of each proposal, 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 Charter Application Review Process

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 following:

  • An advisory panel that included both Department staff and external reviewers reviewed each application. 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 based on evidence provided in the application and to suggest questions for the interview with the applicant group.

  • Four 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; the DVDs are available by contacting the Department at 781-338-3224.

  • 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. All written comments received for the two schools I am recommending for a charter are attached.

  • The Department conducted interviews with members of the applicant groups and proposed boards of trustees, 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 briefing book. Audio recordings of these interviews are available by contacting the Department at 781-338-3224.

  • Department staff prepared a criteria-based summary of the evidence identified within the application and during the interview of the applicant group's capacity to open and operate a high quality charter school based on response to 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 2014;
  • 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.

Tabs B and C contain the following information for Bentley Academy Charter School and UP Academy Charter School of Springfield respectively:
  • 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 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; and
  • written public comment.
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The full charter applications

Recommendation for Bentley Academy Charter School (Tab B)

This is a proposal for a new Horace Mann III charter school, to be located in Salem, which is focused on the attainment of "personal and academic success" by all students as they journey on the path to enter and graduate from college. The educational program will serve grades K-5 and use an extended school year and day to support the success of the anticipated high needs student population. The educational program includes a focus on literacy and numeracy, the effective use of performance data to support effective teaching and learning, and structures within the school day to support student learning through targeted instruction. The proposed school intends to restart the Bentley Elementary School during the 2015-2016 school year under the oversight of the proposed board of trustees, and to serve the school's current students as well as other residents of Salem.

The superintendent and school committee of Salem Public Schools support the establishment of the proposed Horace Mann charter school.

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

Recommendation for UP Academy Charter School of Springfield (Tab C)

This is a proposal for a new Horace Mann III charter school, to be located in Springfield, which is focused on the development of "the knowledge, skills, and strength of character" necessary for students "to succeed on the path to college" as well as support each individual student's progress towards "their full potential." The proposed board of trustees intends to contract with the UP Education Network to operate and manage the school serving grades 6-8. The UP Education Network currently operates two Horace Mann charter schools in Boston with strong records of performance. The UP Education Network also serves as the receiver for UP Academy Holland, a Level 5 school in Boston, and operates two schools under the district receivership in Lawrence. The proposed charter school will model its educational program after the UP Academy Charter School of Boston, also a Horace Mann III charter school serving grades 6-8. The educational program includes a focus on literacy and numeracy knowledge and skills and systems of academic support to ensure student outcomes. The proposed school intends to open in the 2016-2017 school year. In November 2015, the district will identify the middle school that will be restarted as the proposed Horace Mann charter school.

The superintendent and school committee of Springfield Public Schools support the proposed Horace Mann charter school. The application for UP Academy Charter School of Springfield included a certification by the chairperson of the school committee that the school committee had approved the application. Minutes from this meeting, held on the November 13, 2014, indicate that the school committee "voted to approve the UP Academy Charter School of Springfield application for a Horace Mann Charter School on the condition that prior to November 1, 2015 the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership, Inc. Board of Directors votes to approve UP Academy Charter School of Springfield as a Horace Mann Charter School." Attached to this memorandum at Tab C are the minutes of this meeting of the school committee.

The charter school regulations require approval of the school committee before submission of a final application to establish a Horace Mann charter school. 603 CMR 1.04(1)(a)(3). In this case, the school committee approved the application, but did so conditionally. The charter school statute and regulations require full approval, although only the regulations require full approval before submission of a final application.

We believe the school committee included the condition in good faith, and that neither the school committee nor the applicant group were aware that conditional approval was insufficient. The establishment of the Springfield Empowerment Zone, Inc. Board of Directors as a means to secure rapid academic improvement in Springfield middle schools has the full support of the Springfield School Committee. As such, the Springfield School Committee's conditional endorsement of the UP Academy Charter School of Springfield Horace Mann application is consistent with the committee's vesting in the Board of Directors the responsibility for decision making regarding middle school restructuring.

I recommend that the Board waive the regulatory requirement of full approval at the time of submission, because these are circumstances the Board can deem exceptional. The innovative approach to school turnaround that the Springfield School Committee is pursuing is both promising and unprecedented. This is a very strong application and, without a waiver, the Board will be unable to grant a charter; the applicant group would be required to resubmit the application during the 2015-2016 application cycle.

I also recommend that the Board grant a charter to the board of trustees of UP Academy Charter School of Springfield. To ensure that the school committee itself fully and unconditionally approves this charter school, as required by the charter school statute, I recommend imposing two conditions on the school's charter. First, that the board of trustees of the school submits to me, no later than November 1, 2015, certification that the Board of Directors of the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. Inc., has voted to support the UP Academy Charter School of Springfield as a Horace Mann charter school. Second, that the board of trustees of the school submits to me, no later than November 25, 2015, certification that the Springfield School Committee has acknowledged the vote of support of the Board of Directors of the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. Inc. and voted to approve UP Academy Charter School of Springfield unconditionally.

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Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner; and Alyssa Hopkins, Coordinator of New School Development, will be at your meeting on February 24, 2015 to assist with the discussion. In the meantime, if you need any additional information, please contact Cliff (781-338-3222), Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson (781-338-6500) or me.

Attachments:

Motion for Board Action on Bentley Academy Charter School
Motion for Board Action on UP Academy Charter School of Springfield

Tab A
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List of the public hearings held in December 2014;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
List of the external and internal reviewers who reviewed prospectuses and charter applications;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Memorandum detailing the charter application review process and the criteria for review.

Tab B - Bentley Academy Charter School
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Executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
List of the proposed members of the school's board of trustees and proposed employees;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of the interview with the founding group;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process);

Tab C - UP Academy Charter School of Springfield
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
List of the proposed members of the school's board of trustees and proposed employees;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of the interview with the founding group;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Minutes of the meeting of the school committee of Springfield Public Schools held on the November 13, 2014;
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press release regarding the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. Inc.

Tab D - Academy for the Whole Child Charter School (grades K-4 in Fitchburg including Athol-Royalston, Clinton, Gardner, Leominster, Orange, and Winchendon)
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Executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process;

Tab E - New Heights Charter School of Brockton (grades 6-13 in Brockton)
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group;
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process;



Last Updated: February 17, 2015
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