Charter school bid aimed at immigrants

1 proposal aimed at immigrants

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2011

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A proposal to create a charter school in Somerville targeting students from the city’s immigrant community is starting to generate debate as the founding group works to finalize its plan.

The proposal for the Somerville Progressive Charter School is among seven recently submitted to the state for new charter schools, which are independent public schools.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education plans to decide by mid-September which of the groups it will invite to file full applications by Nov. 7. The agency will decide Feb. 28 which, if any, charters to grant.

The proposed K-8 Somerville school would open in September 2012 with an enrollment of 180, growing over five to seven years to a capacity of about 425 students, according to Selena Fitanides, coordinator of the 30-member founding group.

Fitanides said the proposal would offer Somerville a “fully progressive school,’’ which she described as a school that is “very student-centric, really focused on the individual and tailoring the curricular and instructional needs to that individual.’’

The school would focus on “serving the needs of children in Somerville whose first language is not English, the children of fairly recent immigrants,’’ she said. More than 50 percent of students in Somerville’s public schools speak a first language other than English, according to the group’s literature.

Fitanides said: “We need to find a better way to educate those kids. . . . Our current system is not well suited to addressing their needs. We are losing a lot of these kids because they are dropping out of school.’’

Following the group’s belief that bilingual students are more likely to succeed academically if they become fully fluent in their first languages, the school would offer those students the chance to attend daily after-school enrichment programs in Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

Somerville School Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi said he is still evaluating the proposal but has some “serious concerns.’’

Pierantozzi said the district will be implementing a plan this fall to make the Healey School a “fully progressive school’’ with many of the same innovations - including extended learning time - that the proposed charter school would offer.

“The public school system has a progressive school, but I’m not sure we need another one in Somerville,’’ he said.