State board places Dorchester charter school on probation; approves other charter school matters

MALDEN—State education officials today 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.

“I’m concerned about the tail-off in performance I’ve seen in the last couple of years,” Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, told his agency’s board in presenting his recommendation for probation.

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But Chester also voiced optimism that Dorchester Collegiate will prevail under probation, pointing out that the school has already begun to revamp programs and has replaced nearly all of its trustees.

Discussion of charter schools dominated the monthly meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The board also approved the fall 2015 opening of the Springfield Preparatory Charter Public School, which will the serve 486 students in kindergarten through grade 8; the fall 2014 opening of Argosy Collegiate Charter Public School in Fall River, which will educate 644 students in grades 6-12; and the expansion of Atltantis Charter Public School in Fall River by about 200 students.

The latter two votes effectively mean that Fall River has likely reached its state cap on the number of students who can enroll in charter schools, joining Boston and Holyoke. Charter school advocates are expected to seize upon this latest development in their push to raise the limits on charter school enrollment in the state’s cities, as the Legislature weighs various proposals.

The state board also approved a request to consolidate 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 charter school.

The conditions center around entities affiliated with Match that were created to help acquire buildings for school use and to disseminate the school’s often-praised tutoring and teacher residency program. Match has been the most aggressive among the state charter schools in sharing its best practices with other schools.

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 emphasized before the vote.

A third condition orders Match to more clearly state on its website that Match is a public school. Currently, some parts of the website state that Match Education — an overarching brand name for the charter schools and related entities — operates the charter school.

Chester stressed he had no reason to believe that Match has violated any state rules as he praised the school in making his recommendations.

“I think Match has done a tremendous job of delivering a high-quality education to students in Massachusetts,” Chester said.

None of the votes on the various charter school recommendations generated any debate on the board and no one from the public testified about the proposals prior to the votes.

Officials from Match and Dorchester Collegiate who attended the meeting declined to comment. But previously officials from both schools had told the Globe they would comply with the commissioner’s recommendations.

Springfield Preparatory praised the board’s approval of its school in a statement after the vote.

“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 and eager to continue working with families to make the school a beacon of educational excellence in the city of Springfield.”

In other action, the board approved a proposal for a second virtual school in Massachusetts. TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School, operating out of Dedham, will open this fall and will serve 2,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12.

The votes were unanimous, except in three instances. James Morton abstained from the Springfield Prep vote and Vanessa Calderón-Rosado from the two votes on Match. Both cited conflict of interest as the reasons for not voting.