|The Snow Pond Arts Academy received approval by the Maine Charter School Commission to continue on to what was dubbed “its second first year” after concerns were raised about how virtual education was being used in the classroom; the lack of special education services; and funding shortfalls.
A subcommittee of the commission worked with the school on its problems and ultimately came up with an improvement plan that was approved by the commission in a 6-to-1 vote on Tuesday. The no vote was cast by Commissioner Nichi Farnham, who agreed with the plan, but not with the process. “A lot of time was put in by the commission and staff” to find solutions, Farnham said, but not as much by the school and its board.
“I watched you guys do much more than just be overseers and authorizers,” she said to her fellow commissioners. Farnham also wanted an opinion from the Attorney General’s office on whether proposed changes at the school constituted a significant change to its original contract.
Problems at the school came to light in a 90-day review publicized in early January.
A leading concern was the curriculum provided by K-12 Inc. was not being used in an effective “blended learning environment” where the arts classes provided by on-site instructors were not synched with the on-line academics.
As part of the schools improvement plan, they will not be using K-12 this coming school year, but instead using the roughly $140,000 spent on the online curriculum to take the part-time academic teachers at the school to full time.
The school also will be using grant funding from the Maine Department of Education’s “Embrace” program designed to encourage regional sharing. A grant of up to $550,000 will allow three charter schools – the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield, the Cornville Regional Charter School and Snow Pond to share special education administration and evaluation services, among other services.
Snow Pond Arts Academy also has renegotiated its lease with the New England Music Camp in Sidney, which is home to the charter school, to make better use of its money and anticipates an enrollment increase to an estimated 150 students, which will bring in more state aid.
Snow Pond, like all charter schools in the state, will benefit from the newly passed state budget that will put $162 million more into public education over the next two school years. While charter schools already are 100 percent receivers of state aid, allocations have increased for economically disadvantaged students and schools will get $135 per student this year for system administration. The original budget proposed by the governor eliminated support for system administration.
Deborah Emery, formerly a principal with RSU 2, has been named Snow Pond’s head of school.