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    Everett school gets OK, but not to grow

    A regional charter middle and high school in Everett has earned the right to operate another five years, but has been denied its plan to add elementary grades.

    The action comes as Mitchell D. Chester, state commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, is preparing to announce recommendations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on whether to award charters to six groups applying to open schools, including in Lowell and Somerville. The board is to act on the applications Feb. 28.

    Chester last month renewed for five years the charter of the Pioneer Charter School of Science, a grade 7-12 regional school in Everett that serves Chelsea, Everett, and Revere. But Chester rejected a request by Pioneer to amend its charter to add a grade K-6 elementary program.


    In a memo to the board, Chester said the school’s educational program “is clear and successful.’’ But he said the request does not clearly outline the elementary program or sufficiently address how “the proposed grade expansion would modify the current educational program, school culture, discipline systems, and academic focus for the specific needs of elementary school students.’’

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    He also said, “It is not clear how the school will provide adequate facilities for an expansion.’’

    The proposed area schools are Collegiate Charter School of Lowell, which at full capacity would serve 1,200 K-12 students, and Somerville Progressive Charter School, which at full capacity would serve 425 K-8 students.

    The board on Jan. 23 also agreed to amend the charter of Innovation Academy Charter School to allow the grade 5-12 regional school in Tyngsborough to grow from 600 to 800 students.

    Earlier in January, Chester found the 16-year-old academy, which serves nine districts, had met the terms of the condition attached to its five-year renewal last August. The condition required that it establish an English-language learners program.


    Founded in 2007, Pioneer Charter School of Science operates in leased space in Immaculate Conception parish hall on Summer Street. Although chartered to serve 360, space limits enrollment to 316, said Barish Icin, school executive director.

    Icin said Pioneer’s charter renewal without conditions “is a testament to the hard work of everyone in the building.’’

    School officials note that Pioneer, which emphasizes math and science and features extended learning time, has surpassed state and district MCAS averages.

    Icin said Pioneer is not deterred in trying to add elementary grades. He said if it can locate a facility, it plans to reapply in the 2012-13 round, revising its bid to address state concerns.

    He said Pioneer is also looking for space to relocate middle school grades, which would allow it to reach its 360-enrollment cap. He said it would like to house the middle and elementary grades in one location.


    The proposed charter in Lowell would open in fall 2013 with 540 K-5 students, and grow a grade a year, to reach full capacity as a K-12 school with 1,200 students. It would be managed by Sabis Educational Systems, a Minnesota-based, family-owned for-profit firm that operates schools in 15 countries. Included are a K-12 school in Springfield and a K-8 school in Holyoke, said Jose Afonso, Sabis director of business development.

    Sabis’s approach is geared to preparing students for college. Afonso said evidence of its success is that all seniors in the 11 graduating classes at its Springfield school have been accepted to at least one college.

    “We believe we are the right match for that community,’’ he said. “We’ve been in Massachusetts now for 17 years and we have an excellent track record in operating charter schools that are academically successful.’’

    The proposed Somerville school has been a focus of heated debate, with school officials and a residents’ group strongly opposing the plan.

    In December, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association filed a complaint alleging that Somerville school employees coerced and intimidated parents and misused public funds to spread misinformation about the plan. The district has denied those charges.

    The school would start with 180 students and grow to 360 in five years, and eventually to 425. The intent is to offer Somerville a fully “progressive school’’ focused on serving children from new immigrant families whose first language is not English, according to Selena Fitanides, the founding group’s coordinator.

    The school would offer after-school programs in Spanish, Portuguese, and French. Its other features would include a focus on building science, technology, engineering, and math skills, and extended learning time.

    “We continue to feel that we have a very strong proposal that is perfectly suited for this community,’’ Fitanides said.

    Michael Chiu, a spokesman for the residents’ group opposing the plan, Progress Together for Somerville, said, ‘‘I trust the charter should be evaluated on its merits and if it does, I don’t think it should be approved. There are many better ways to address the gaps in our school system.

    ‘‘We’ve done a pretty good job of demonstrating that the community does not want this. An enormous amount of people want to focus on making the schools better. This is going to distract us from our work.’’