Proposed charter schools in Lawrence, Saugus, and Woburn advance to final round

Proposals for three new charter schools in the region have advanced to a final application round, while four others were turned down.

Two of the proposals advancing — for regional schools based in Saugus and Woburn — would be operated by the Pioneer Charter School of Science, a regional school based in Everett. The third is for YouthBuild Charter Academy in Lawrence.  

Those not making the cut included the Somerville Progressive Charter School; another regional Pioneer Charter School of Science, in Billerica; and two in Lynn, the Fenix Charter School  and the regional BridgeSmart Preparatory Academy Charter School.  

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The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in July received 22 prospectuses from groups seeking to establish new charters, or independent public schools. The board on Sept. 28 invited the founders of 12 of those schools to submit full applications by Nov. 14. The board is set to award new charters Feb. 26.  

The 22 original prospectuses included eight in area communities. One of them — for the regional Asia Pacific Charter School in Wakefield — was withdrawn this summer, according to state officials.

The YouthBuild Charter Academy, a proposed 173-student high school, would receive guidance and some funds from the Lawrence Family Development & Education Fund, a nonprofit that also supports the Lawrence Family Development Charter School, which has students in kindergarten to ninth grade, according to Ralph Carrero, the school’s superintendent/director and a member of the academy’s founding group.

The academy would serve high school dropouts ages 16 to 24, employing some of the strategies used by its affiliate, YouthBuild USA, a national program that works to help those at risk to obtain their GEDs and find employment.

“In the last six years alone, 2,600 students have abandoned high school’’ in Lawrence, Carerro said. “This is an opportunity to reach out to them and try to get them reengaged in productive learning opportunities, and hopefully lead them to having successful lives.”

To motivate them to succeed, students would be required to undertake community service in return for a funding award provided upon graduation to help pay for college. The school would also employ a social worker to help give students access to services.

In 2010, the state raised the normal per-district cap on the number of charter schools in the lowest performing districts. Applicants in those districts must show that they are a proven provider, meaning they have a track record of raising academic achievement. Carrero said Lawrence is a low-performing district, and his founding group meets the criteria because of the role Lawrence Family Development would play.

The three new schools proposed by Pioneer Charter School would be replicas of the five-year-old school in Billerica, with each serving 360 students in grades 7 to 12, and emphasizing math and science.

Barish Icin, Pioneer’s executive director, said state officials had expressed concerns about his organization’s ability to open three new schools at one time. In response, he said, Pioneer decided to focus its attention initially on the Saugus and Woburn schools, and then to reapply at a later time for the Lowell school.

The Saugus school would serve Danvers, Lynn, Peabody, Salem, and Saugus, while the one in Woburn would serve Medford, Melrose, Saugus, Stoneham, Wakefield, and Woburn.

The Somerville Progressive Charter School would serve 520 students in kindergarten to eighth grade, with a focus on serving children from newly arrived immigrant families whose first language is not English.

The proposed charter has generated sharp controversy in Somerville, with city school officials and a group of residents opposing it. A previous charter application by the organization was turned down by the state board in February.

“It’s very disappointing not only to the founders of the proposed school, but also to the hundreds of families in our community who continue to wait for a good public school option for their children,” said Selena Fitanides, a spokeswoman for the founding group. She said the group would apply again next year.

Fitanides said that in informal discussions with state officials, she was advised they turned down the application because they wanted to see more details, such as the school’s plans for teacher training.

“We appear to be more risky than the other applicants,” she said, noting that the school would be distinct in not being either a clone of an existing school or run by a charter management company. “The commissioners understandably want to make sure that there is no chance the school will fail.”

Fitanides said, however, she is confident that based on the expertise of those involved with the school, the proposal would eventually meet the proven-provider requirement.

The Fenix Charter School would serve 600 students in grades 5-12, with an emphasis on having students tackle real-world projects to prepare them for college and the workplace, according to Frank DeVito, spokesman for the founding group.

DeVito said he was advised by state officials that the application was incomplete because it did not show how the group would meet the proven-provider requirement. He said the group is exploring possible partnerships with nonprofits to achieve the status, with the intent of applying again next year.

BridgeSmart Preparatory Academy Charter School would serve 475 sixth- to 12th-grade students in Boston, Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, and Revere. The school would feature a holistic program combining core classes with wellness courses such as yoga and dance.

Kiyoshi Yu, a spokesman for the founders, said the group is disappointed given the time it invested in making sure criteria were met in the prospectus.

He said that based on the comments it receives from the state on where its proposal fell short, the group will determine whether to apply next year. He said it is also exploring the possibility of applying for a charter in another state.