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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools — Outcome of the Charter School Application Process

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:
February 6, 2019

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 decision with respect to a pending application.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received three prospectuses for Commonwealth charter schools in August 2018. Of the three prospectuses received, I invited two of the applicant groups to submit a final application. The Department received both final applications in October 2018, the proposed Equity Lab Charter School and the proposed Massachusetts Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School: Haverhill. The applicant group of the proposed Equity Lab Charter School withdrew its proposal prior to my final determination.

Based upon the criteria for application approval, I will not be presenting the proposed Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School: Haverhill for Board consideration. I provide my rationale within this memorandum.

High Standard for Charter Recommendations

Massachusetts has one of the strongest charter school sectors in the nation. Over our 25-year history of charter authorizing, Massachusetts has earned its reputation of holding charter applicants (as well as applicants for renewal or expansion of a charter) to a high standard for approval. Our standard relies on the approval criteria set forth in the charter school statute, regulations, and application, and sets an expectation that all new charter schools authorized by the Board will substantially meet the criteria and have a high likelihood of success. Each applicant group must not only have a strong vision for a school but also exhibit the necessary capacity and planning to demonstrate faithfulness to its charter, academic program success, and organizational viability.

While the applicant group of the proposed Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School: Haverhill has presented a school proposal with a coherent vision for an innovative and promising educational option for families in their targeted community of Haverhill, it requires further development to demonstrate that it substantially meets specific criteria for approval. As a result, I will not be recommending the application for Board approval.

Decision Regarding the Massachusetts Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School: Haverhill

The proposed Massachusetts Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School: Haverhill seeks to provide Haverhill families access to a Montessori education in partnership with the proposed school support organization, Wildflower Foundation. The Wildflower Foundation supports founding groups in the development of new schools implementing the Wildflower model of Montessori education through micro-schools located in storefront spaces within the neighborhoods where students live. The Wildflower Foundation has provided support to the founders of two private pre-schools in Haverhill, with a third in the planning stages.

The seven individuals associated with the proposal share a commitment to broadening access to Montessori for families in Haverhill. At this time, the applicant group is at the beginning stages of developing the necessary knowledge and capacity to implement all aspects of the proposed school design, including governance and management. Based upon the application and the Department's interview with the applicant group, the applicant is reliant upon the Wildflower Foundation to provide guidance in all areas of management and governance and effectively limits the proposed board of trustees' and faculty's autonomy from the Wildflower Foundation. Along with this concern about governance, the Department identified concerns related to the implementation of special education programming within the proposed school design.

For these reasons, I am not recommending the application for approval at this time. The Department will invite the applicant group and the Wildflower Foundation to participate in a debriefing session to discuss the detailed review and feedback.

The Review Process for Charter Applications

The Department conducted a multi-step review of the charter application. The review process included the components that follow.

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

  • On December 3, 2018, a public hearing was held in Haverhill, where the charter school proposes to locate. Board member Maya Mathews and Vice Chair James Morton attended the hearing at the University of Massachusetts — Lowell, Innovation Hub Haverhill. The Department recorded the 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 the hearing and through the Department's website. The superintendent of Haverhill Public Schools received the application from the applicant, was informed by the Department of the application links on the Department's website, and was invited to comment.

  • In December, the Department conducted an interview with the applicant group that focused on the concerns and questions raised in the panel review and the public hearing. Department staff summarized the interview and a copy is included with this memorandum. An audio recording of the interview is 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 the application and during the interview regarding the 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 the application when judged against the application criteria.

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

  • a memorandum detailing the charter application review process and the criteria for review; and
  • a list of the external and internal reviewers who reviewed prospectuses and charter applications,

Under Tab B is the following information for Massachusetts Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School: Haverhill:

  • 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.

Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner; Alison Bagg, Director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign; and Alyssa Hopkins, School Development Manager, will be at your meeting on February 12 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:

Tab A

Download Word Document
Memorandum detailing the charter application review process
Download Word Document
the criteria for review
Download Word Document
a list of external and internal reviewers for prospectuses and charter applications

Tab B — Massachusetts Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School: Haverhill

Download Word Document
executive summary of the proposal, written by the applicant group
Download Word Document
summary of the final application review, including the evidence identified during the Department's application review process



Last Updated: February 8, 2019
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