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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools — Amendment Request of Excel Academy Charter School (Enrollment)

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:
February 1, 2019

Pursuant to the Charter School Regulations, 603 CMR 1.10(1), the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) must approve changes in the maximum enrollment, grades served, and districts served of Commonwealth and Horace Mann charter schools. As mentioned in a memorandum I provided you last month, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) has received requests from six existing schools to change their maximum enrollment, grades served, or chartered regions. This month, I recommend the Board approve an amendment request from Excel Academy Charter School (Excel) to increase its enrollment by 56 seats. This memorandum details the request from the board of trustees of Excel, a regional Commonwealth charter school serving grades 5–12 in Boston and Chelsea, and the basis for my recommendation.

The Department's assessment of Excel's request is described below in preparation for a discussion and vote at the Board's meeting on February 12. This memorandum addresses the school's request and plan for implementation, the Department's review, proven provider consideration, public comment, and my recommendation. Attached to this memorandum for your review are:

  • the original amendment request and additional materials subsequently submitted by the school, as applicable;

  • a summary of the school's credentials as a proven provider, including a summary of the school's academic performance, student demographics, attrition rates, and five-year financial summary; and

  • public comment.

Excel Academy Charter School
Type of Charter
(Commonwealth or Horace Mann)
CommonwealthLocationBoston and Chelsea
Regional or Non-Regional?RegionalDistricts in RegionBoston and Chelsea
Year Opened2003Year(s) Renewed2008, 2013, 2018
Maximum Enrollment1,344 (limit of 748 Boston)Current Enrollment1,2971
Chartered Grade Span5–12Current Grade Span5–12
Students on Waitlist1,0892Current Age of School16 years
Mission Statement
The mission of Excel Academy Charter School is to prepare students to succeed in high school and college, apply their learning to solve relevant problems, and engage productively in their communities.

School's History, Request, and Plan for Implementation

The board of trustees of Excel requests approval of an amendment to increase its maximum enrollment by 56 students to reach a maximum enrollment of 1,400 students in grades 5–12. The school serves students on three middle school campuses, two in East Boston and one in Chelsea, and on one high school campus in East Boston. The school was chartered as a middle school in 2003 that served approximately 300 Boston and Chelsea students in grades 5–8 in East Boston. In 2011, the Board awarded the school's board of trustees two more charters for an additional middle school serving Chelsea and a 5–12 school serving Boston. In 2014, the Board granted the board of trustees' request to consolidate all three charters in order to permit all Excel students to enroll in the high school. The Board limited Boston enrollment to no more than 748 students based upon the charter awards in 2011 and a subsequent expansion in 2013. The current proposed increase in enrollment of 56 seats does not change the school's enrollment cap for Boston.

Excel proposes to increase the size of each grade-level cohort in grades 5–10 by 8–9 students over a five-year period.3 The school's waitlist demonstrates sufficient Chelsea demand to support the proposed increase in enrollment. Chelsea residents account for 10 percent, or 155 students, and 13 percent, or 204 students, of the school's waitlists in March 2017 and March 2018, respectively. Excel currently admits new students through grade 10, which exceeds statutory requirements for filling vacancies.

The school's request provides increased access to its educational program in response to significant demand without requiring substantial changes in staffing or facilities. With the additional funds, the school will enhance its strategies to recruit and retain high quality, diverse staff. In the 2016 and 2017 school years, the school reported a staff retention rate of approximately 72 and 78 percent, respectively.

The school formed a Board-Staff Working Group (BSWG), comprised of several school stakeholders, to develop recommendations on how to improve the school's ability to attract and retain high-quality staff who are representative of the students and communities that they serve. The Board-Staff Working Group's work resulted in the development of a number of strategies including a competitive compensation package to implement when additional resources are made available. The school will allocate additional funding to recruit and hire teachers who reflect the identities and experiences of Excel's students. The school also will create a compensation package to support work-life balance. The school proposes to offer on-site childcare to staff, standardized and broadened access to flexible work schedules and long-term leave options, and salary increases based on years of employment.

Department Review

Section 1.10 of the Charter School Regulations contains several criteria to consider in determining whether to grant a school's request to amend its charter. The Department considers the following factors when reviewing amendment requests:

  • the charter school's compliance with applicable state, federal, and local law;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the faithfulness of the school to the terms of its charter, including the extent to which the school has followed its recruitment and retention plan and has disseminated best practices;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the success of the school's academic program;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the viability of the school as an organization;
  • the merits of the school's amendment request when judged against the criteria outlined in the Department's Charter Amendment and Notification Guidelines Download Word Document and the Charter School Performance Criteria Download PDF Document;
  • the eligibility of the board of trustees for proven provider status based upon the criteria described in 603 CMR 1.04(4);4 and
  • public comment received regarding the request.

Overall, the Department's records indicate that Excel's academic program is a success, that the school is a viable organization, and that it is faithful to the terms of its charter.

  • Excel administered Next-Generation MCAS in 2017 and 2018 for grades 5–8. Next-Generation MCAS scores are designated by levels of achievement, reported as meeting or exceeding performance standards. The percent of Excel students identified as meeting or exceeding performance standards in English language arts (ELA) was above the statewide average for comparable grades in both 2017 and 2018, 56 percent and 55 percent, respectively. The percent of Excel students identified as meeting or exceeding performance standards in mathematics decreased slightly from 55 percent in 2017 to 47 percent in 2018; these were above the statewide average in comparable grades for both years.

  • Excel administered the PARCC assessment in 2015 and 2016 for grades 5–8. PARCC scores are designated by Levels, with Levels 4 and 5 meeting or exceeding expectations, respectively. The performance of Excel students exceeded the statewide average for comparable grades in ELA and mathematics in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, 81 percent of Excel students received a Level 4 or 5 in ELA, which increased to 84 percent in 2016. The percent of students identified as meeting or exceeding performance standards in mathematics decreased slightly, from 76 percent to 71 percent.

  • Prior to administration of PARCC in 2015, the performance of Excel's middle school students in ELA and mathematics exceeded statewide averages since 2006. The percent of Excel students identified as proficient or advanced in ELA was 89 percent in 2012, 90 percent in 2013, and 86 percent in 2014, above the statewide average for comparable grades. The percent of Excel students identified as proficient or advanced in mathematics was 89 percent in 2012, 84 percent in 2013, and 76 percent in 2014, above the statewide average for comparable grades.

  • The school has dedicated staff who support the school's college-bound mission. Staff include a director of college and career counseling, an associate director of college and career counseling, a director of post-secondary support, an associate director of post-secondary support, and a director of 5–8 college access. Staff provide students with self-advocacy skills and engage in transitional planning with students and their families that includes access to requisite support services. The school's director of postsecondary support works with Excel alumni enrolled in college. According to the school, 87 percent of the students in the Excel grade 8 classes of 2012 through 2016 enrolled in two- or four-year colleges upon graduation from high school. Excel also reported in 2017 that 28.5 percent of the students in the grade 8 Excel classes of 2006 and 2007 earned a bachelor's degree within six years.

  • As explained above, Excel was awarded a charter for grades 9–12 in 2011. Based upon the school's growth plan, the school launched grade 9 in 2015-2016 and is graduating its first senior class this year. Since the school began serving high school grades, the school has reported no dropouts.

  • Excel has two years of legacy MCAS data for grade 10. The percent of Excel students identified as proficient or advanced in ELA was 95 percent in both 2017 and 2018, which exceeded the statewide average for grade 10 students. The percent of Excel students identified as proficient or advanced in mathematics was 92 percent in 2017 and 84 percent in 2018, also exceeding the statewide average for grade 10 students.

  • Students identified as economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, and English learners exhibit similar performance trends on the Next-Generation MCAS, PARCC, and legacy MCAS in all grades. The school has consistently supported these student populations to outperform the statewide averages for comparable grades in both ELA and mathematics.

  • Excel has maintained a consistently low attrition rate below the statewide average and below the median for its group of comparison schools for all students and students identified as high need. In three of the past five years, the attrition rate for high need students was below the aggregate attrition rate that same year.

  • The school has a clearly defined school culture of high behavioral expectations. At the middle school level, behavioral expectations are structured around the PREP system (Prepared, Respectful, Engaged, and Professional). Similarly, at the high school level, behavioral expectations are built on the PRIDE system (Professional, Reflective, Inquisitive, Dedicated, and Empathetic).

  • The school's in-school suspension (ISS) rate has historically been lower than the statewide average and the median of comparison schools. In 2013, there were no in school suspensions. Rates increased to 0.5 percent in 2014 and 2015. Since 2016, ISS rates have increased from 2.8 to 3.8 in 2018. The school has reported a substantial decline in the number of ISSs during the current school year and appears on track to return to its historically lower ISS rates of less than 1 percent.

  • The school's out-of-school suspension (OSS) rate has declined for the past three years. The school's OSS rate has historically exceeded the statewide average and the median of comparison schools. Out-of-school suspension rates have decreased from 17.6 in 2016 to 10.1 in 2018. The school has reported continued decline in OSSs during the current school year and appears on track to maintain its pattern of year-after-year decline.

  • The school provided a number of examples of changing policies, practices, and culture to address concerns regarding student discipline. The school reports that the goal of these changes is to foster and sustain a school culture that empowers students in their journey of becoming adults and supports teachers in the development of positive and trusting relationships with students. Since 2016, the school has taken a critical look at school culture and managing student behavior. Below are several strategies the school has implemented.

    • The school has revised its code of conduct to establish student engagement strategies that are no longer reliant upon the use of demerits. For example, the school no longer gives demerits in class when students do not follow specific classroom expectations.
    • The school uses the morning homeroom block to foster team building and implement character-based educational programming.
    • The school has implemented a small group advisory at the high school adapted from the "Circle" program at Valor Collegiate, a charter school in Tennessee. The advisory is in its second year of implementation with plans to expand programming to the middle school grades. The school reports that the weekly circle is intended to build community by reinforcing the school's mission and values, celebrating the school's culture and community, recognizing students for their accomplishments, and setting attainable but ambitious goals for the coming day.
    • The school has implemented an intermediary approach to discipline called In-Class Restitution (ICR) that incorporates student learning in class and individual support from the Dean of Students. As part of the school's review and revision of this alternative to ISS, the school has eliminated practices previously associated with ICR, such as the use of a desk separated from other students within the classroom or the use of specific color shirts. The school's use of ICR has declined during the current school year. In addition, if ICR proves ineffective, the school provides the student with a customized behavior plan.
  • As evidenced by the school's annual audits and current fiscal dashboard, Excel has received unqualified audit opinions for all years of its recent charter term. Despite some moderate and high risk associated with establishing four campuses, Excel's financial conditions and performance on key financial metrics have improved over time. The school has successfully utilized associated nonprofits for substantial fundraising and real estate purchases.

  • Former acting commissioner Jeff Wulfson renewed Excel's charter in 2018 pursuant to delegated authority from the Board. The school received a rating of "Meets" in all four categories of the Charter School Performance Criteria assessed at renewal.

Proven Provider Consideration

Proven provider status5 is required to award additional seats to Excel. Excel's charter region includes Boston and Chelsea, public school districts that are identified as performing in the lowest 10 percent of all districts based on MCAS results from 2016 and 2017. The Department's enrollment projections indicate that Boston is at or near its net school spending (NSS) cap of 18 percent based on current and awarded enrollment. Based on the current enrollment of Chelsea residents in Commonwealth charter schools, approximately 215 seats are available under the 18 percent NSS cap.6

After evaluating the performance of Excel against the criteria for proven provider status, I identified the board of trustees of Excel as a proven provider for the purposes of the current amendment request. Included in your materials are the relevant student achievement, financial data, and other indicators used to determine that the board of trustees of Excel is eligible for proven provider status. Pursuant to 603 CMR 1.04(4)(b), the award of proven provider status to an existing board of trustees must include successful student academic performance over a three-year period. This is measured by using proficiency/achievement levels and growth measures on the state assessment test or equivalent assessments for ELA and mathematics in comparable grades for all students and for one or more targeted subgroups. The Department compares the school's student performance data to statewide averages and to relevant district averages for the grades served by the charter school.

Public Comment

At the time of the school's submission to the Department, Excel also submitted copies of its request to Superintendent Mary Bourque of Chelsea Public Schools and Superintendent Laura Perille of Boston Public Schools, pursuant to 603 CMR 1.10(5). Superintendent Bourque submitted comment opposing the school's request, which is attached. No comment was received from Superintendent Perille. The Department received comment in support from family members of current students, including Chelsea City Council President Damali Vidot. Comment in support of the school's request is also attached.

Recommendation

I have reviewed the school's request, and it appears reasonable and consistent with the charter school statute and regulations. Overall, the submitted amendment request, the renewal of the school's charter in 2018, and the Department's accountability records indicate that the school's academic program is a success, that the school is a viable organization, and that it has been faithful to the terms of its charter. I recommend that the Board approve the request.

A motion for approval is attached for your consideration.


If you have any questions regarding this amendment or require additional information, please contact Alison Bagg, Director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign (781-338-3218); Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); or me.

 

Attachments:

The following documents are public records and are available upon request.*

 
Correspondence from Excel Academy Charter School, including supplemental
 
evidence provided by the school
 
Excel Academy Charter School's Academic Performance Data, Student
 
Enrollment Demographics, Student Attrition Rates, and Five-Year Financial Summary
 
Public Comment
 
Motion for Board Action on Excel Academy Charter School

*Due to the volume of documents, limited web server space, and the Department's commitment to achieving meaningful accessibility to this online environment for all users, but most particularly for users with disabilities (we follow specific Commonwealth Enterprise Standards designed to meet the needs of our citizens with disabilities), we are unable to post this document on our webpage. Please send an email to boe@doe.mass.edu to request the document and we will respond promptly. Thank you.

 

Note:


1 As reported in the Student Information System (SIMS) as of October 1, 2018.

2 As reported in the Massachusetts Charter School Waitlist Report Update for 2018-2019 from October 1, 2018.

3 In March 2018, I approved a modification of Excel's growth plan to slightly increase its cohort size within the school's current 1,344 maximum enrollment while this request was under review. I also approved a second version of the growth plan that would be implemented for the 2019-2020 school year if no change to the school's maximum enrollment of 1,344 occurred.

4 Proven providers must meet the performance criteria described in 603 CMR 1.04(4) ("evidence satisfactory to the Commissioner, to demonstrate a significant management or leadership role at a school or similar program that is an academic success, a viable organization, and relevant to the proposed charter school").

5 Proven providers must meet the performance criteria described in 603 CMR 1.04(4) ("evidence, satisfactory to the Commissioner, to demonstrate a significant management or leadership role at a school or similar program that is an academic success, a viable organization, and relevant to the proposed charter school").

6 Under the charter school law, generally no more than 9 percent of a district's net school spending may be allocated for charter school tuition. For the state's lowest performing districts, including Chelsea, the NSS cap is increased to 18 percent for charter school tuition.



Last Updated: February 4, 2019
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