May 22, 2018
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Four new groups, including 2 virtual academies, apply to create charter schools in Maine

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Four more organizations have submitted lengthy applications to the Maine Charter School Commission to open new schools next fall, including two that are vying to be Maine’s first statewide, Internet-based “virtual schools.”

The organizations that submitted full applications by the Dec. 2 deadline were the following:

— Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School, which seeks to serve up to 420 students focused on science, technology, engineering and math with a “strong foundation” in humanities, according to its letter of intent.

— Maine Connections Academy and Maine Virtual Academy, which would be statewide virtual charter schools. Both organizations have submitted applications to the commission in the past and both participated in a June workshop with the commission focused on the need for more defined information in the commission’s requests and the organizations’ applications. Maine Connections Academy, whose board of directors is chaired by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, aims to attract 750 students, as does Maine Virtual Academy.

Many Hands Montessori School in Windham, which seeks to serve kindergarten through third grade initially and expand to K-8 in the long term for a total of about 100 students.

The four applications are vying for five remaining slots that are available under the state’s charter school law, which was enacted in 2011. Under the law, the commission can approve up to 10 charter schools statewide by 2022.

Maine’s first two charter schools opened in the fall of 2012. Three more opened this school year.

Local school districts can create an unlimited number of their own charter schools, though none have opted to do that. A total of seven entities submitted letters of intent to file full applications earlier this year.

The applications will be reviewed for completeness by the commission this month and then posted to the commission’s website. The commission is scheduled to vote on Jan. 30 whether each application should move to a public hearing and full review. Public hearings are expected to be held in February, with the commission voting at its March 4 meeting whether to enter into contract negotiations with applicants or deny applications.

Considering the new school applications will be two new members of the commission who were appointed last month by the State Board of Education. Filling the vacant seat left by the resignation of Dick Barnes is Mike Wilhelm of Casco. Laurie Pendleton of Belfast will fill the seat recently vacated by William Shuttleworth. Both bring considerable education experience to the commission, according to their resumes.

Pendleton, who holds an elementary education bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Farmington and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Capella University in Minnesota, started her career as a teacher and administrator for 15 years, including three years at Seven Hills Charter School in Worcester, Mass. Since 1998 she has held a variety of education consultant jobs in the United States and beyond, most recently as an independent contractor helping schools across the U.S. with the implementation of Common Core standards, creating teacher evaluation manuals and evaluating educators in New York City charter schools.

Wilhelm started his education career in 1968 as a high school English teacher in Buckfield. In 1980, after two stints in the publishing industry, Wilhelm became a school administrator and eventually, an assistant superintendent for School Administrative District 75 in the Topsham area. He was the district’s superintendent from 1992 to 2011 and during that time was also an adjunct faculty member at Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine. Wilhelm is currently the interim superintendent in RSU 16 in Poland.

Robert Long:

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