January 5, 2013

Cornville charter school accepting applications for 28 new student slots

Students will be chosen via lottery from all applicants; enrollment expanding from 60 to 90 for upcoming term

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

CORNVILLE -- The state's first and only charter elementary school is accepting applications for the coming school year.

click image to enlarge

Cornville Regional Charter School teacher Danielle Beaman helps student Barret Walker recently. The school is accepting applications for 28 new student slots, and will accept those students via a lottery.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

The Cornville Regional Charter School opened its application process Jan. 2 while two charter high schools, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield and the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, also are accepting applications and planning to expand their schools.

The Cornville school, which opened in October, has 60 students and plans to expand to 90 next year.

"Almost every day someone calls and asks questions or wants to find out where to get an application," said the school's executive director, Justin Belanger. "It's nice to know the community is interested in our school and we're not just our own little bubble."

The Cornville and Fairfield schools became the first charter schools in the state in October.

A charter school is a public school that receives public funding but is formed and operated by parents, teachers and people in the community. It offers more flexibility and creativity in its curriculum but still is held to the same academic standards as traditional public schools.

Charter schools also have made it challenging for some school districts in the state to assemble budgets, since money leaves the school district along with each child that goes to a charter school. During the first year of charter schools in Maine, many districts complained that they were not notified of how many students would be leaving until midsummer or fall -- after district budgets had been set.

In rural school districts with small student populations, the loss of just a few students -- and with them, a couple thousand dollars -- can affect education, school district officials have said.

Belanger said that while it is early in the application process, the Cornville school anticipates having a lottery to select students if they receive more applications than there are spots available by the March 1 deadline.

Last year they received 90 applications for 60 spots, he said. This year there are 28 spots for new students, as the school already has accepted two students with siblings already enrolled in order to keep families together, Belanger said.

Aside from students who are accepted into the charter scool automatically because they are siblings of other students enrolled there, acceptance is determined by lottery. Belanger said the application is basic and does not ask for test scores or grades, or for students to submit samples of work or complete projects.

"We're not allowed to pick and choose. I think the lottery is a good idea because it ensures that the school is not elitist and is open to everyone," Belanger said.

The school also plans to add grade seven to the current kindergarten through grade six classes in the coming school year. Two more teachers will also be added to their staff of 12. Belanger said they plan to have 120 students and grades kindergarten through eight by the 2014-2015 school year.

Under Maine law, the state has allowed for 10 charter schools to open over the next decade. The charter commission is currently reviewing five applications to open this fall and most recently approved a new charter high school in Portland, the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science.

It started accepting applications Jan. 1 and its executive director, John Jaques, said they received 65 student applications within three days.

The school, which will open on Sept. 3 and have a special emphasis on science and technology, will initially open as a ninth- and 10th-grade school with a total of 160 students. Jaques said they will add a new freshman class each year until they are a four-grade-level high school with 300 to 320 students.

Meanwhile, the state's only currently open charter high school, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, has been accepting applications all school year and will continue to do so until March 15.

Director of Admissions Lisa Sandy said she has received about 25 applications so far. The school has 46 students and has been approved by the state to expand to 82 students.

Last year they were allowed to accept 52 students but did not receive that many applications, Sandy said.

This year, she said, there seems to be more interest in the school and more applications than last year.

"I think there are a lot of students out there who are not thriving in the traditional school setting and do better in a hands-on learning environment," she said.

The natural sciences school opened in September 2011. It is part of Good Will-Hinckley, which was founded in 1889 as a residential school but closed in 2009 because of financial problems.

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

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