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State bond aids charter school’s plan for new site

A rendering of the new facility for  Pioneer Charter School of Science II  that is being planned for Main Street in Saugus.

Pioneer Charter School of Science

A rendering of the new facility for Pioneer Charter School of Science II that is being planned for Main Street in Saugus.

A regional charter school that opened in temporary space in Everett last summer will soon have a permanent home in Saugus with the help of a $2.8 million state financing award.

The Pioneer Charter School of Science II, which is leasing space in the former Everett High School, will be relocating to a new building at 97 Main St. in Saugus.

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The Massachusetts Development Finance Agency issued the tax-exempt bond for the nonprofit Charter Schools Development Corporation, which will install the prefabricated building and lease it to the Pioneer organization. Pioneer officials expect to occupy the building in late June or early July, and to open it to students when the new school year begins in mid-August.

The school was established as a duplicate of the Pioneer Charter School of Science I, which opened in 2007 and is in the former Immaculate Conception parish school on Summer Street in Everett.

Barish Icin, chief executive of the organization that runs both schools, said the project is an exciting moment, noting, “it’s going to be a brand new building — that’s a first for us.”

Pioneer Charter School of Science II graduates will have a strong math and science background, he said, and academic and social skills that prepare them for college. “We’ve seen it work at our flagship school and we plan to offer the same approach to more North Shore families,” Icin said.

Both schools are chartered to serve grades 7 to 12, and focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — while also emphasizing character education and career-oriented college preparation.

‘It will be our building, so it will help our students develop a sense of belonging. They will feel part of a community. In Everett, they don’t feel that way. A lot of them are traveling a good distance to our site.’

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The Pioneer program has a longer school day and year, uses data to assess students’ academic progress and behavior, offers free tutoring and academic competitions, and has an optional Saturday Academy for students struggling with a subject or who want more academic time.

The second school, which is set up as a regional campus serving Danvers, Lynn, Peabody, Salem, and Saugus, debuted last fall with 162 students in grades 7 to 9. It plans to expand by a grade each year while moving toward a full capacity of 360 students. The original Pioneer school, with Chelsea, Everett, and Revere as its member communities, has a current enrollment of 353.

Pioneer II students come from 19 communities — state rules allow students from outside the region to enroll if any spots are not taken by local students. The communities sending the most students are Lynn, with 45; Saugus, 36; Malden, 31; and Everett, 12.

Peabody, Danvers, and Salem provide just 10 students combined, but Icin said he expects the numbers from those communities to rise next fall when a school is located closer to them.

Having a new building will provide a more comfortable learning environment for students and staff, Icin said, noting that the temporary space has a poorly functioning heating system, no air conditioning, and limited technology. “And it will be our building, so it will help our students develop a sense of belonging,” he said. “They will feel part of a community. In Everett, they don’t feel that way. A lot of them are traveling a good distance to our site.”

Pioneer settled on the temporary quarters when it was not able to have a Saugus location ready in time to open last fall.

The new school will be on a 2-acre site behind the Grace Ministries church. The land was acquired in February by Charter Schools Development, which helps start-up and early-stage charter schools finance, build, and expand facilities. The corporation and Pioneer looked at other Saugus properties, but ruled them out for various reasons.

“We are very happy to be involved in this project,” said Alvin Dubin, a Sharon resident who is chief executive of the Maryland-based corporation.

He said his group “feels very good about the school and the people who operate it,” noting, “they are a STEM school and their results speak for themselves — they are educating kids.”

Icin said that, at all grade levels and in all subject areas, students at the original Pioneer school are scoring higher on MCAS tests than those in the region’s regular schools and the state average. He said Pioneer’s 10th-grade students also shared first place in a statewide ranking for science, engineering and math, and for English, on MCAS tests.

Dubin said the project’s overall cost, including land acquisition, is about $3.9 million. In addition to the MassDevelopment bond, which was purchased by East Boston Savings Bank, the financing includes loans from other nonprofits. The school will pay a lease that begins at $300,000 a year for two years, rising by 2 percent a year after that.

The MassDevelopment assistance was a key to the project, Dubin, said, noting that because the state bond is tax exempt, East Boston Savings Bank was able to offer his corporation favorable interest rates.

“STEM education in Massachusetts is growing more important as careers become more high-tech,’’ and charter schools like Pioneer “provide these opportunities to the Commonwealth’s students,” MassDevelopment president and chief executive Marty Jones said in a prepared statement, adding that the agency is pleased to offer the low-cost financing arrangement to help the Pioneer Charter organization “expand its reach.”

The new one-story, 14,500-square-foot school building will have 11 classrooms and a multipurpose room that will serve as a lunch room or additional classroom.

Pioneer officials said they plan to add a second story as enrollment increases.

John Laidler can be reached at
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