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State places Dorchester charter school on probation

Given 18 months to raise scores

MALDEN — State education officials Tuesday placed a Dorchester charter school on probation and imposed conditions on the operating license of another Boston charter school.

Dorchester Collegiate Academy Charter Public School, which opened less than five years ago, will have 18 months to boost its MCAS scores and remedy other issues under its probationary status. Otherwise the school, which educates about 200 students in grades 4-8, could face closure.

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“I’m concerned about the tail-off in performance I’ve seen in the last couple of years,” Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, as he presented his recommendation.

But Chester voiced optimism that Dorchester Collegiate will survive, noting the school has begun to revamp programs and has replaced many trustees.

Charter school discussions dominated the board’s monthly meeting. The board approved opening Springfield Preparatory Charter Public School for fall 2015, serving 486 students in kindergarten through grade 8; Argosy Collegiate Charter Public School in Fall River for this fall, educating 644 students in grades 6-12; and expanding Atlantis Charter Public School in Fall River by about 200 students.

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The latter votes mean Fall River has probably reached its state cap on the number of students who can enroll in charter schools, joining Boston and Holyoke. Advocates are expected to seize upon that development to push the Legislature for more charter schools.

The board also approved consolidating Match Charter Public School and Match Community Day Charter Public School into a single legal entity. The board then, at Chester’s urging, imposed three conditions on the school’s operating license to address any potential conflict of interest and to clarify who is running the school.

The conditions center around entities affiliated with Match that were created to help acquire buildings for school use and to disseminate Match’s often-praised tutoring and teacher residency programs.

The conditions require Match to seek opinions from the State Ethics Commission about the arrangements and to consult with the appropriate state retirement systems because some staff members split their time between the school and the private entities.

“This is a protective measure,” Maura Banta, the board’s chairwoman said.

A third condition orders Match to more clearly identify its status as a public school on its website. Currently, the website repeatedly states that Match Education, an overarching brand name for the charter school and related entities, operates the school.

Chester stressed he had no reason to believe that Match has violated any state rules and praised the school as he made his recommendations. “I think Match has done a tremendous job of delivering a high quality education to students in Massachusetts,” Chester said.

The various charter school recommendations generated no debate on the board or testimony from the public.

Dorchester Collegiate expressed disappointment in the board’s decision to put the school on probation, but acknowledged the need for the school to improve “academic performance and governance effectiveness,” according to a statement.

“We have actively worked to address both issues since the beginning of 2013 and will aggressively continue these efforts,” the statement said.

Match previously told the Globe it would comply with the conditions.

Springfield Preparatory praised the board’s vote in a statement.

“We are driven by the simple belief that all children — regardless of race, ZIP code, or socioeconomic status — deserve a world-class education that affords them the opportunity to succeed in college,” said Bill Spirer, Springfield Prep’s lead founder and proposed head of school. “We are thrilled with the board’s decision to approve Springfield Prep.”

The votes were unanimous, except in three instances. James Morton abstained from the Springfield Prep vote and Vanessa Calderón-Rosado from the two Match votes, both citing conflicts of interest.

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