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Excel Academy seeks to open charter school in Providence

The Massachusetts-based school wants to eventually serve 2,100 students from Providence, North Providence, and Central Falls

Mason Cologne told Providence Public Schools Superintendent Harrison Peters about his first day of school at Spaziano Elementary School.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE – A Massachusetts-based charter school is seeking to open a Rhode Island branch that would eventually serve 2,100 students from Providence, North Providence, and Central Falls beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

Excel Academy, which has four campuses in East Boston and Chelsea, submitted a proposal to the Rhode Island Department of Education ahead of Monday’s deadline for new charter school applications. The school wants to begin serving kindergarteners, first graders, and fifth graders, and would ultimately include students in all grades.

The organization is seeking to open as a mayoral academy, a category of publicly-funded charter schools in Rhode Island whose boards of directors are controlled by municipal leaders. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi, and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa are all supporting the school.


“Our schools aspire to be rigorous and inclusive,” said Owen Stearns, the chief executive office for Excel Academy. He said Excel’s Massachusetts schools have about 1,400 students in grades through five, 79 percent of whom are Latino and 19 percent of whom have special needs.

Excel Academy’s schools boast proficiency rates on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System that rival the state average in math and English and outperforms the traditional public schools in Boston and Chelsea. That would place Excel’s schools well ahead of both the Providence average and statewide average in Rhode Island.

Stearns said Excel Academy has created a culture “where it’s cool to be smart,” and its schools offer longer school days and school years than traditional public schools, along with a relatively low attrition rate of 4 percent. The teachers are not members of public employee unions. He said Excel also has a post-secondary mentorship program that supports students for up to six years after graduating from high school.

So why Rhode Island?

Stearns said an existing cap on charter school seats in Massachusetts makes it difficult for Excel Academy to expand in that state, and officials started exploring moving into Rhode Island several years ago. Those discussions advanced last year when Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green led a state takeover of the Providence school system.


Excel Academy is not the only charter school organization seeking to open or expand this year.

Achievement First, which already operates several high-performing charter schools that largely serve Providence students, has submitted an application to open two additional kindergarten through eighth grade schools that would eventually feed into the a new high school.

All new charter school applications are expected to be posted to the Rhode Island Department of Education’s website by Tuesday, and a rolling public comment period will run until Dec. 1. The state is required to publish local fiscal impact statements – analyzing the cost to municipalities of students attending a public charter school over a traditional district school - by Oct. 30.

Following the public comment period, the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education will schedule a vote for preliminary approval of new schools sometime in the winter. Final approvals would come in the spring.

Excel Academy’s application and the proposed expansion at Achievement First are almost certain to be met with strong opposition from the Providence Teachers Union, which is currently locked in contract negotiations with Infante-Green.

The union has argued that an increase in charter school seats takes funding away from traditional districts because per-pupil state aid largely follows students no matter where they attend public schools.


But supporters of charter schools say there is overwhelming demand for more charter seats in Rhode Island, especially in Providence, which is home to some of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Stearns said Excel Academy would like to have roughly 170 students in each grade, and would add grades each year, likely reaching full capacity around 2030.

He said Excel has not yet identified a facility for its Rhode Island operation, but the goal is to open in Providence for the 2022-23 school year.

Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.