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Campus to be re-born as new school

Date: 7/26/2011

July 27, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — It’s a warm July evening and on the tornado-battered terrace of Wallace Hall at the former MacDuffie School, there is a group of people gathered for what appears to be a party.

There is a reason, though, behind the food, beverage and entertainment as this is one of the informational and networking events John Foley Jr., the new owner of the property, is conducting to spread the word about Commonwealth Academy, his new school that will located on the campus.

Foley is hosting these “community conversations” at 6 p.m. on Fridays.

“I’m not looking for anything out of it ... except for good conversation,” he said.

Foley said the tornado, which did considerable damage to the buildings and the landscaping of the campus, has set his plans back by about a year, but he is determined to move forward with a summer camp program — there is already a filmmaking program being taught on campus — and a day school program. He hopes to have 50 students in a day school program by next spring, which he himself admitted is “a lofty goal.”

Foley is undeterred by the fact the board of MacDuffie sold the school and moved to a campus in Granby with the stated reason the campus was too old and modernization too expensive.

Commonwealth Academy will be an urban boarding school for grades six through 12. He said that it would begin full enrollment efforts for a six and ninth grade for the fall 2012 semester.

There will be competitive exams for admission, but a sliding scale for payments to the non-profit school, he said. He wants students from the abutting neighborhoods to apply and some may pay nothing for their education.

According to flyers about the school, Commonwealth Academy will be a countywide school with the majority of the students from low-income families. The school day will be 12 hours long with supervised study hall, computer assisted instruction and sports. At full enrollment, the school will have 300 students.

Foley has not yet gone before the Springfield School Committee, but will do that in the future.

He is no stranger to alternative education. He has established a number of programs such as the Center for School Crisis and Intervention, the School Transition and Employment Project and Project 13.

He intends to integrate the school into the neighborhood by allowing residents and organizations to use the facilities there.

“We’re really going to liven this place up — really open this campus up,” he said.

He said his philosophy is one of “learning transcends the campus.”

His school will not be funded with any public dollars, he emphasized.

“We are going to raise our own money,” he added.

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