|The Maine Charter Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved an application for The Ecology Learning Center, offering high school students a curriculum that will blend classroom learning in required subject areas with hands-on experiences that connect students with Waldo County’s rural heritage.
The Ecology Center will be the 10th charter school in Maine – the last allowed under a cap that was made permanent by the Legislature this past session.
The school will be on the campus of Unity College in Unity. It is scheduled to open in September of 2020.
“The essential design elements include small classes of 12 to 15 students that take place indoors, outdoors, and throughout the local community and landscape. The small size allows for an entire class to travel nimbly to sites throughout Maine for service learning, internships, apprenticeships, and other experiential place-based learning opportunities,” according to the school’s application.
The application cites the poverty in Waldo County as a reason the school is needed and why class sizes will be kept small.
“Poverty is a key non-academic challenge the school will encounter. With overall county poverty rates at 16 percent and trending upward, Waldo is the state’s 7th poorest county.”
The school plans to start with 48 students and grow to 96.
The school takes on special significance by filling the last available charter slot in Maine. That 10-school cap, which was part of the original charter law, was supposed to be lifted in 2021. It was made permanent by L.D. 307, An Act To Limit the Number of Charter Schools in Maine. The bill passed along party lines. Under that law, the only way to add on a new charter school is to have one close or be closed.