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Westborough and Newton

Charter school proponents target suburbs

Suburban educators and parents who would like to see more specialized teaching in public schools — for one group, more science and math teaching; for another, Chinese language immersion — are turning to charter schools, often used in the past as a way to create better schools in underperforming districts.

The newest round of proposals filed with the state includes two aimed at area communities: in Westborough, a charter school would offer accelerated math and science courses as well as language immersion; and a Chinese language immersion school is being envisioned in Newton.

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“I see charters as giving choice to families that may not have choice where they are,” said Daniela Carrigo, a founder of the proposed Westborough school. “I think those are needed in suburbs as well.”

Under her proposal, the Central Massachusetts Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics via Language Immersion Public Charter School would teach part of the day in Hindi, Mandarin, and Spanish, and students would choose a second language in which to learn part of the day. The school would educate children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The 10 proposals submitted last week to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are preliminary. Next month, the agency will invite the most promising groups to submit full applications. Any proposals gaining its approval would be awarded charters in February.

Some of the proposed charter schools are in cities where MCAS scores fall in the lowest 10 percent of the state, such as Lynn, Springfield and Fall River. Carrigo acknowledges that trying to create a charter school in a suburb with higher test scores is more difficult. But Carrigo, the assistant superintendent for equity, diversity and family engagement in the New Bedford schools, said she sees a need in Westborough, where she lives.

“I was somewhat appalled, having worked in urban schools, that one in five children in Westborough is Asian and less than 1 percent of the faculty is Asian,” she said. She said she also believes that children from low-income families and youngsters learning to speak English are not doing as well in the town’s schools as they should be.

‘I see charters as giving choice to families.’

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Carrigo said she knows many parents who are dissatisfied with the structure of the Westborough district, where students attend three different schools before they enter high school. Research shows, she said, that students benefit from staying in the same school until eighth grade.

“It creates a closer connection with the school,” she said. “The school gets to know the families and child better.”

In the first year, every student at her school would be given a Raspberry Pi, a $35, credit-card-sized computer designed to teach children how computers work. In the second year, every student would get an iPad for use at school; students who qualify for free or reduced lunches, based on family income, would have one to take home.

Her proposed charter school would also accept students from Hopkinton, Marlborough, Northborough, Shrewsbury, and Southborough, Carrigo said.

A facility with a similar focus, the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School, opened in Marlborough in 2005. With students in grades 6-12, the academy has some of the highest SAT scores in the state, and in recent years it has had a long waiting list.

In Newton, the proposed Chinese Immersion Charter School would teach students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The effort to launch the school started when a group of parents from Cambridge approached administrators at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley about creating a similar school in Greater Boston. Cambridge already is nearing the state-imposed cap on charter schools in a community, so the founders are looking to set up in Newton if the charter school is approved.

Most of the students who entered the Hadley school did not speak Mandarin, and the proposed Newton school would be set up with the same expectation, said Richard Alcorn, executive director of the Hadley school, who submitted the Newton proposal. The school would open by accepting students in kindergarten and first grade and expand by one grade each year.

The school would also accept students from Brookline, Cambridge, Waltham, Watertown, and Weston.

As in many charter schools, the Newton school would have a longer school day: seven hours for kindergartners and first-graders, and almost eight hours for older students.

“I’m not surprised to hear about a Chinese immersion school in this area,” said Margaret Albright, who is running for Newton’s School Committee. “There is a very large Chinese community.”

The city school system’s superintendent, David Fleishman, said he had heard about the proposed immersion school but had not read the proposal. In general, he said, he supports offering students more choices. His one concern about the proposed school would be if it could not serve all students — ones requiring special-education services, for instance — and yet drew funding away from the city’s system.

Each time a student switches to a charter school, it receives thousands of dollars in state aid that is diverted from the student’s local school system.

If the new Chinese language immersion school used public money to benefit a small group of students, “at the expense of other students who need to be served, that’s the only thing I worry about,” Fleishman said.

Newton’s schools offer Mandarin classes, beginning in sixth grade.

“Obviously, we’re always concerned about resources,” Fleishman said. “On the other hand, we’re very confident in the programs we offer.”

School officials in Westborough could not be reached for comment.

Charter schools operating in area communities include the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential in Devens; the Christa McAuliffe Regional Charter Public in Framingham; and the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public in Franklin.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at Kathleen.Burge@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenBurge.
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