Charter school board at capacity, preparing for review of at least 8 applications

Posted Sept. 19, 2012, at 5:55 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 19, 2012, at 6:34 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Charter School Commission welcomed two new members Wednesday as it gears up for another busy season of considering at least eight applications for new charter schools in Maine.

The State Board of Education approved John Bird of Spruce Head Wednesday to replace Donald Mordecai, who resigned from the commission earlier this year for health reasons. Mordecai died at his home in July. State Board of Education member Heidi Sampson of Alfred also will join the commission, taking the place of Dr. Lynda Doyle, whose term on the board expires next week. By law, the seven-member charter school commission must include at least three members from the State Board of Education.

According to Maine Charter School Commission Chairwoman Jana Lapoint, Bird brings a careerlong commitment to education to the board, including long-term involvement with the Maine Charter Schools Association. A native of the Rockland area and a Bowdoin College graduate, Bird has been the headmaster of at least three out-of-state schools in southern and midwestern states. He also is heavily involved in local boards and organizations, including the Island Institute and the Farnsworth Art Museum. Lapoint said that among 15 applicants — five of whom were interviewed by the commission, whose role by law is to make recommendations to the State Board of Education — Bird was the unanimous choice.

“He’s a wonderful addition to the board,” said Lapoint. “He understands that children don’t all learn in the same way and therefore there need to be alternatives for their education.”

Sampson, according to information on the State Board of Education’s website, also has a history of advocating for alternative education strategies. She has spent two decades advocating for home schooling, including serving as a conference speaker in Maine, the United States and Canada, and leading a home-schooling support group. She has taught a range of high school-level courses to many home-schoolers, in addition to her own three children. Sampson holds degrees in biochemistry and sports medicine and has long been a proponent of children’s fitness.

Lapoint said the commission has longer to consider applications for the next academic year than it did this year. Because of the timing of the Legislature’s approval of charter schools in Maine in December 2011, the commission was forced to work quickly early this year to develop rules and bylaws. The commission didn’t receive all its applications until the end of May and didn’t start vetting them in earnest until June. With its focus now on the 2013-14 academic year, the commission currently has letters of intent from eight potential applicants, including three that have been resubmitted since the previous round. Letters of intent have been submitted for the following:

Harpswell Coastal Academy seeks to create a charter school on Harpswell Neck for grades six-12 that focuses on marine and natural resources, farms and forests and sustainable entrepreneurship. The school proposes to enroll up to 80 students in grades six through nine in September 2013 with a total projected enrollment of 270.

The Heartwood Charter School in Kennebunk would be for grades six-eight in September 2013 with possible expansion to grade 12 in future years, for a total enrollment of about 54. The organization proposes to focus on visual and performing arts.

Inspire Me Academy would be located in the Sanford area of York County and targeted at up to 180 students in grades four through eight. The academy would focus on character-based education.

Maine Connections Academy would be based in Scarborough and would serve up to 1,000 students in grades K-12, with a first-year projected enrollment of 350. Aimed at students who have trouble succeeding in traditional schools, the academy would represent a “virtual” charter school, meaning students from all over Maine would primarily learn via computers and Internet connections.

Maine Virtual Academy, based in the Portland area, would serve 200 students in grades K-12 in the first year, followed by up to 1,000 students in future years. Similar to Maine Connections Academy, classes would be taken predominantly on the Internet with an emphasis on individualized curriculums for students.

Monson Academy in the town of Monson seeks to open as a prekindergarten through grade four school, with plans to eventually offer courses through high school as well as a four-year college for an overall enrollment of up to 400. The curriculum would focus on nature and specifically the Maine woods.

The Penobscot Bay Community School would be located in the Stockton Springs area and aimed at children in prekindergarten through grade six, with a total projected enrollment of 100. The school would emphasize literacy and mathematics through project-based learning in multiaged classrooms.

Queen City Academy Charter School in Bangor would target students in grades six-12 from the Bangor area, with a projected enrollment of 420. The school would emphasize science, technology, engineering and math with a focus on career-oriented college preparation.

Lapoint said members of the commission, as well as some potential applicants, will spend Thursday and Friday in Augusta for training that is sponsored by the National Governor’s Association and supported through a grant received by the LePage administration. By law, the commission is allowed to approve up to 10 charter schools in Maine over the next 10 years.

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