Commissioner applauds strong start of charter schools

Monitoring by the Maine Charter School Commission of the two charter schools that served students during the 2012-13 academic year show the state’s first charters are meeting their missions

AUGUSTA – The State’s Acting Education Commissioner is applauding the state’s first two public charters after their inaugural monitoring reports show the central Maine schools are engaging students and adapting quickly to meet emerging needs.

Cornville Regional Charter School in Cornville, which served approximately 60 grade K-6 students, and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences (MeANS) in Hinckley, which served 52 students grades 9-12, opened in the fall of 2012 after Maine, under the leadership of Governor Paul R. LePage, became the 41st state to allow public charter schools. 

As part of its oversight responsibilities, the Maine Charter School Commission evaluates performance of the state’s charter schools on an ongoing basis and releases an annual monitoring report based on multiple site visits and extensive document review.  The Commission finalized and made public their first reports earlier this month.

In their opening year, both schools met all of the expectations of their contracts and excelled at engaging students and families, according to the Commission’s findings for the 2012-13 school year. Parents told Commission members there “were no cracks for kids to fall in” at Cornville Regional and that students were “learning like never before” at MeANS.

“Maine’s new public charter schools are delivering on their commitment to put students first,” said Acting Education Commissioner Jim Rier. “With this encouraging report from an independent commission and the continued overwhelmingly positive student and family feedback and outcomes, it’s time to move beyond the debate about publicly-funded charter schools in our state and accept they are here to stay and are serving the best interest of their students well. I applaud these new school communities for their early success. Our Department looks forward to continuing to work with them and all our state’s public schools to deliver quality, learner-centered education to all Maine students.”

Attendance at both schools was high, with 95.6 percent daily attendance at Cornville Regional and 93 percent at MeANS, which counts many former high school truants and dropouts among its student population.

Both schools communicate weekly with parents, with a principal’s newsletter being sent to Cornville Regional parents and families at MeANS receiving a Friday phone call or email from the student’s advisor. The Commission additionally noted that MeANS’ high level of family engagement, critical to student success, led to 100 percent participation in student-led parent-teacher conferences and 66 percent participation by a parent or guardian in at least one school-sponsored activity.

The Commission’s monitoring also revealed the small, student-centered schools were able to adapt quickly to meet new needs.

When bad behavior on the bus emerged as an issue that was harming the school’s climate, Cornville Regional responded by placing monitors on the buses.  The school also received a far greater influx of special education students than expected, which led them to expand from the original half-time special education director and one ed tech to a full-time director and four ed techs.

“Cornville Regional Charter School staff, administration and the board are very receptive, responsive and forward thinking when it comes to engaging programming and meeting students need,” said school Executive Director Justin Belanger. “Our first year went very smoothly.”

While a positive school day climate was lauded at MeANS, concerns about the need for increased supervision and structure for those living on campus led that school to hire a new Director of Student Life and to design an after-school activity program.

One area where the schools have significant work to do is improving student performance as measured by objective State assessments. Because the schools were only in the first year, the Commission sees any testing results as a benchmark by which future results can be measured.

Cornville Regional, which tested students with the New England Common Assessment Program just days after the school opened, showed proficiency well below Maine’s average on mathematics, and just slightly above for reading. Locally-chosen formative assessments taken throughout the year showed strong growth, especially in math.

At MeANS, third-year students took the required Maine High School Assessment, but State and federal privacy laws prevent the release of proficiency results, given the small size of the class.  However, nearly all of the senior class members successfully completed at least one course at Kennebec Valley Community College while enrolled at MeANS and all starting seniors graduated in August with 60 percent now having full-time employment and the others pursuing post-secondary education.

Both Cornville Regional and MeANS have seen their student populations grow in their second year of operation as Maine students and families embrace the expanded opportunities for choice in education. Last month, Baxter Academy for Technology & Science in Portland, Fiddlehead School of Art and Science in Gray and Harpswell Coastal Academy became Maine’s newest charter schools.

For more information about the Cornville Regional Charter School, visit www.cornvilleregionalcharterschool.org. For more information about The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley, visit http://means.gwh.org. For more information about charter schools in Maine, visit www.maine.gov/doe/charterschools/.

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