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Saugus

Charter school OK expected

An Everett-based charter school that focuses on math and science will learn by Tuesday whether its application to add a similar school in Saugus is ­approved.

Earlier this month, Commissioner Mitchell Chester recommended that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approve a proposal by the Pioneer Charter School of Science to open the Pioneer Charter School of Science II in Saugus. Like the Everett school, it would serve grades 7 through 12, and have more than 300 students. If approved, the school would open in the fall.

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Chester did not recommend that the state approve Pioneer’s other application for a school in Woburn. The Saugus school also would draw students from Danvers, Lynn, Peabody, and Salem.

Saugus School Committee member Arthur Grabowski ­opposes the approval of any new charter school in town. “To lose any money in the budget would definitely hurt our ability to provide the programs we need for the children of Saugus,” he said.

The proposed Saugus school was one of five new charters across the state that Chester recommended to the board, which will vote on the recommendations Monday and Tuesday. The state reviewed 11 ­finalists, including the two proposed Pioneer schools, and a high school plan submitted by YouthBuild Academy Charter School in Lawrence that was not recommended.

“I believe the five new charter schools that I am recommending are well positioned to become academically successful and viable organizations that will close proficiency gaps and equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed,” Chester said in a prepared statement.

In recent years, the board has almost always approved the commissioner’s charter recommendations. Still, in the past five years, the board has rejected the commissioner’s charter recommendations twice. In 2011, the board turned down the Lynn Preparatory Charter School, and, in 2008, it rejected the proposed International Charter School of Southeastern Massachusetts in Brockton.

‘I believe the five new charter schools that I am recommending are well positioned.’

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“We are excited to be able expand our highly successful science- and math-based educational model to more families in communities north of Boston,” said Barish Icin, executive ­director of Pioneer in Everett. “PCSS sets high expectations for its students and provides them with a school culture, an academic program, and extra supports to help them achieve at high levels.”

Charter schools are free and admit students on a first-come, first-served basis or by lottery. The schools use public funds. Unlike traditional school districts, they are run autonomously by independent school boards. Charters can have themes and focus on academic subjects, but still must adhere to state educational standards.

Pioneer opened its Everett charter school in 2007, and runs 200 days a year – 20 days longer than regular public schools. The school requires students to wear uniforms, has extended days that can continue until 5:30 p.m., and offers tutoring on Saturdays for those who need extra help.

According to Pioneer spokesman Dominic Slowey, students are required to pass five math and five science classes in order to graduate. He said students also must complete 40 hours of community service and a senior project.

Last year, Pioneer students earned high scores on the MCAS tests, with all grades outpacing the state averages. With just one graduating class to date, the school has a shorter history of SAT results for its students. In its sole performance report of the school in 2011-2012, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported that Pioneer SAT scores averaged around 10 percent lower than the rest of the students in the state.

Since the first 15 public charters opened in 1995, there has been tension between the new schools and the host and surrounding districts. Traditional school districts have charged that charters have smaller budgets, serve fewer children, and divert state funds from the school system.

Chester also recommended that the Excel Academy Charter School in Chelsea, which currently has grades 5 through 8, expand to add grades 9 through 12.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.
com
. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.
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