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Five new charter schools get initial nod

Proposals to open five new charter schools and expand 11 existing ones across Massachusetts won coveted recommendations from the state’s education commissioner Friday as part of an effort to provide more students with ­high-caliber educational opportunities, officials announced Friday.

The five charter school proposals, including two in Boston, prevailed in a crowded field that initially boasted 22 applicants last summer. That field was winnowed down to 11 ­finalists in the fall.

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“I have confidence these are schools that will benefit students, which is the bottom-line consideration for me,” said Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education. “We have many outstanding charter operators in the Commonwealth. I’m really pleased with this set of recommendations to give them a chance to grow and ­expand and create new networks.”

The recommendations will be forwarded to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which will vote on the proposals at its monthly meeting Feb. 25 and 26. The board usually approves the commissioner’s recommendations.

Created under the 1993 ­Education Reform Act, charter schools are supposed to provide innovative alternatives to traditional public schools by operating with fewer restrictions from state regulations and usually without unionized teachers.

Many charter schools have among the highest standardized test scores, but some perform below district averages and the state has closed a few.

Chester recommended many of the proposals under a 2010 change in state law that allows doubling the number of charter school seats in districts with the lowest state standardized test scores. Under the change, charter school operators must demonstrate a record of results to open new schools or expand.

Growth in charter schools has been so robust in Boston and a few other cities that nearly all the new seats have been doled out, prompting some advo­cates last month to push for abolishing state limits on charter school growth.

The Massachusetts Public Charter School Association ­renewed that call Friday.

“There are 45,000 children on charter wait lists, and caps prevent additional charter schools from opening in some communities,” Marc Kenen, the association’s executive director, said in a statement. “How long should we make them wait?”

But Chester said any further change in state law would be premature.

“I think it would be a mistake to open it too wide and too quickly,” Chester said. “One thing we have done well in Massa­chusetts is setting a high bar for quality.”

If the board approves all the recommendations, Boston could gain 1,585 new charter school seats over the next few years.

One of the proposals receiving Chester’s endorsement calls for converting the city-run ­Marshall Elementary School into UP Academy Charter School of Dorchester for this fall. The school would be run by Unlocking Potential, a nonprofit school-management company, under a contract with the School Department.

This is the second Boston public school that would be run by Unlocking Potential, which converted the Gavin Middle School in South Boston into an UP Academy in fall 2011.

“We think there are great things ahead for that school and that school community,” Matthew Wilder, a School Depart­ment spokesman, said of the Marshall. Chester endorsed two proposals by City on a Hill, an independently run charter school in Roxbury, to open a second school in Boston and one in New Bedford.

“We are honored and ready to engage in the next stage of work,” said Erica Brown, executive director of City on a Hill.

Chester also gave his backing to Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School in Chelsea to open another site in Springfield, and a proposal for Pioneer Charter School of Science in ­Everett to open another school on the North Shore.

Existing charter schools winning recommendations for expansion are: Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter School in Hyde Park; Codman Academy Charter School, Dorchester; Conservatory Lab Charter School, Brighton; Edward W. Brooke Charter School’s campuses in Roslindale, Mattapan, and East Boston; Excel Academy Charter School’s campuses in East Boston and Chelsea; Community Day Charter School — Prospect, Lawrence; Four Rivers Charter School, Greenfield; and Pioneer Valley ­Chinese Immersion Charter School, Hadley.

Some charter school advocates expressed disappointment that not all finalists ­received recommendations, particularly one for Brockton, where MCAS scores rank in the bottom 10 percent in the state; the city has no independently run charter schools.

The applicants for the International Charter School of Brockton will consider whether to try again next year, said Jose M. Afonso, director of US business development for SABIS Educational Systems, an educational management company that was going to run the Brockton school on behalf of the applicants.

“Choice should not be limited to those families who can send their children to parochial schools,” Afonso said.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.
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