Reminder Assistant Editor
The influx in the student-teacher ratio within the public school systems and lack of one-on-one attention has prompted parents of over 25,000 children and teens to be enrolled in 61 charter schools statewide.
The high demand for quality education and college preparatory curriculums is on the rise for parents within the high-need communities of Greater Springfield.
Two of the five semi-finalists before the Board of Education this year are aimed at meeting the demands of students in these communities as early as 2009. After a series of hearings that will conclude on Jan. 14, the board will meet in February to grant approval to the deserving proposed charters.
Dr. Marc Kenen, executive director of Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said the goal of these new charters is to "replicate successful models of urban charter schools in Massachusetts." He added that currently the association has a team of Harvard researchers examining the state's highest performing charter schools -- one in Lawrence and four in Boston -- "to identify their common elements of success for replication in Springfield."
Kenen attributed the success of charter schools over district schools to their greater autonomy in exchange for a higher degree of accountability. "With that flexibility charters are able to create more school environments conducive to higher performance," he said, adding that teachers are not unionized, allowing them to be hired or dismissed based on their "talents and merits as opposed to seniority in a public school system."
Charter schools each have their own approved individual curriculums with extended school days or weeks, which Kenen also attributed to the success of their model of education.
Beth Conway, assistant director of SABIS International Charter School in Springfield, said they have had record success since opening their doors in 1995, adding that seven graduating classes have had 100 percent acceptance rates into institutions of higher learning.
The school serves 1,518 students, kindergarten through 12th grade with 110 teachers. Kindergarteners through fifth graders attend school Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. -- 3:45 p.m. and students in grades seven through 12 attend school from 7 a.m. -- 2:30 p.m.
Conway said the success of their Commonwealth charter school can be attributed to their smaller student-teacher ratio and international education. Students begin taking Spanish language courses in kindergarten and continue them through their senior year. Students are also responsible for their own learning and the education of others through a student manager and prefect system, which would allow the classes to be taught even in the teacher's absence.
Volkan Yesilyurt, doctoral student of organic chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the primary applicant for the Hampden Charter School of Science currently before the Board of Education, said he and his colleagues became discouraged with Springfield's increasing high school drop out rate. He said they believe they will be able to provide college preparatory education and increase the number of college-bound students within the Greater Springfield area.
Federal and state grants have also been available to aid those like Yesilyurt and his colleagues to develop their charter school proposal. First, applicants must submit a mini application of 10 to 15 pages and if deemed suitable they are approved to submit a full proposal of 75 to 100 pages. Applications for state grants are due by Feb. 1 and will be awarded March 1.
Kenen said many applicants are comprised of parents, businesspersons or disenfranchised district education personnel. He was quick to note that those applying for a charter school must be prepared to "work harder than you've ever worked with the potential of the greatest satisfaction of helping our students and children be successful in this world."