Maine’s first two charter schools open doors

Olivia Broadrick, senior at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, chose to attend the public charter school because she plans to work in the sciences.
Olivia Broadrick, senior at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, chose to attend the public charter school because she plans to work in the sciences.

AUGUSTA – The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences (MeANS) and Cornville Regional Charter School opened as Maine’s first two public charter schools Monday, providing new choices for Maine students.

Charter schools are public schools of choice that have more flexibility than traditional public schools over decisions concerning curriculum and instruction, scheduling, staffing and finance. The opening of the charter schools directly aligns with the LePage administration’s ABC plan, which aims to improve achievement growth in Maine by prioritizing three core areas: accountability, best practices, and choice.

“Another word for choice is option,” said Governor Paul LePage. “If we are striving for more successful outcomes for our students, we must offer multiple options. It is choices like the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley and the Cornville Regional Charter School that will help us meet the needs of all students, and meeting the needs of all students is the only way we improve our educational system.”

Commissioner Stephen Bowen spoke at the MeANS event, which was attended by politicians, business leaders, educators and others. Deborah Friedman, director of policy and programs, represented the Department at Cornville’s quieter flag-raising ceremony, attended by parents and community members.

“For over a year, the Governor and I have been saying we must do something different because what we’ve been doing has not been working,” said Commissioner Bowen. “Public charter schools are an important part of an effort to give families and students more choices, and to foster more innovation in Maine schools.”

MeANS provides innovative education to at-risk, but motivated students through a hands-on educational platform that combines traditional academic content with agriculture, forestry and sustainability. The program partners with Kennebec Valley Community College to permit students to take college courses for dual credit. Forty-six students from across Maine are currently enrolled in MeANS, which boasts a residential living program made possible through a public-private partnership.

“The vision that came from the Governor was that we would have a place where students who wanted to have a new high school experience, who were not necessarily clicking or feeling like they were where they wanted to be…[could] try a hands-on learning experience,” said Glenn Cummings, president and executive director  of Good Will-Hinckley. “They would experience us as a place of success.”

Students Nicholas Fothergill and Olivia Broadrick explained during MeANS’ ceremony why they decided to attend Good Will-Hinckley.

“I like working outside, and I like doing stuff with my hands,” said Fothergill, a junior boarding student from Hermon. “We devote three quarters of our day to outdoor projects. My goal ultimately is to become a Maine state fishing and game officer, and I feel like this school will help me ultimately reach that goal.”

Broadrick, a senior from York, chose MeANS based on her heavy involvement with the 4-H Youth Development Organization and interest in the outdoors. “Everything I’ve ever considered going into a career for has centered on the natural sciences,” Broadrick said. “[Good Will-Hinckley] is hands-on and self-directed—I can learn how I learn best.”

Cornville students began their first day of school at the flag pole on the front lawn. A group of students raised the American flag that had been saved when the school ended its run as a traditional public school two years ago. After ceremony attendees said the Pledge of Allegiance to the old flag, the students lowered it and raised a new American flag to represent the opening of the charter school.

Cornville’s Executive Director Justin Belanger told the gathered students, parents and staff that they were taking part in a “historic event” in Maine.

The Maine Charter School Commission is authorized to approve up to 10 public charter schools over the next decade.

Gov. LePage has made choices for students a cornerstone of his education agenda, proposing legislation last year that would make it possible for students to enroll at public schools outside the district in which they live. The Legislature amended his proposal, approving the creation of a group to develop a model for public school choice. The group’s second meeting was scheduled for this afternoon and the group is scheduled to report back to the Legislature in January. Meanwhile, LePage has said he is likely to propose additional school choice legislation in the coming legislative session, which begins in January.

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