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Two new charter schools approved by commission

The Maine Charter School Commission today approved two new charter schools – one a performing arts high school associated with the New England Music Camp in Sidney and the second a pre-K-6 school affiliated with the Margaret Murphy Center for Children in Lewiston.

The commission vote was unanimous for the Snow Pond Arts Academy, which will be on the campus of the New England Music Camp. The school plans to contract with the national K-12 corporation for an online curriculum that will be taught to students in a “blended learning” environment, with teachers physically located at the school. The major concern raised was how the online learning would be integrated with on premise instruction.

“They gave us a bag of mush,” said Commission Vice Chair Ande Smith, in terms of the description of the blending learning model.

The vote in support of Acadia Academy, associated with the Margaret Murphy Center, which offers services to children with disabilities, was 6-to-1. Acadia Academy will initially serve kindergarten through grade 2, with grades 3-6 added later. While associated with the Margaret Murphy Center, it would not be a school only for students who need special services.

The commission vote on Acadia was the more contentious, with Charter Commission Chair Shelley Reed raising concerns that the proposed school’s plan did not adequately address how to serve the Lewiston-Auburn area, with its high poverty and ethnic diversity.

Reed said the school in its application made note of the poverty in the area, “but does not plan on feeding these children.”  She also said the school’s location would determine what children could attend.

“Is this going to be an uptown school, or a downtown school?” she asked.

The commission now will go into contract negotiations with the two schools, spelling out specifics of their operation for a 2016 opening.

The state currently has seven operating charter schools, and the two new schools will bring that number to 9. Under law the commission can approve one more before hitting its limit of 10. That cap was established under state law and is in place until 2021.  

A little over 1,500 students now attend charter schools in Maine. An estimated 46 percent of those students are enrolled in the state’s two virtual schools, affiliated with the national K-12 Inc. and Connections Academy.

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