New England News
3:56 pm
Wed October 2, 2013

Students, Staff Work On Culture Of New Charter School

The newest charter school has opened its doors in Springfield, Massachusetts. Interest in establishing new charter schools in Springfield has grown since a cap was lifted three years ago.

The Baystate Academy Charter Public School occupies a former parochial school in Springfield, MA
The Baystate Academy Charter Public School occupies a former parochial school in Springfield, MA
Credit WAMC

   Classes started at the Baystate Academy Charter Public School more than a month ago, but students, teachers and administrators held a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday morning and then participated in a weekly exercise called “community day.”  It consists of musical performances, dancing and skits in the gym. The purpose is to help establish the culture of the school, which Principal Judy Perlmutter describes as being a mix of fun and academics.

   Baystate Health provided the start-up funding for the new charter school which has a focus on the health sciences. It is a college preparatory school. Students will be able to take college-level courses at Springfield Technical Community College.

   Perlmutter, who worked in charter schools in Los Angeles before coming to Springfield, said she was surprised by the high demand for alternative education.

   Baystate Academy has 160 students, 80 each in the sixth and seventh grades. Eventually the school will offer classes through the 12th grade with a total enrollment of 560 students. Founding Executive Director Tim Sneed said there is an extensive waiting list.

   A lottery was used to determine the first year admissions.  Seventh-grader  Joel Rivera-Camacho came to Baystate Academy after attending Van Sickle Middle School last year.

   Baystate Academy uses the Expeditionary Learning model, which stresses critical thinking along with classroom and community involvement.   The school day is 90 minutes longer than at the Springfield Public Schools and the academic year is a week longer.

   There are four charter schools currently operating in Springfield. The Massachusetts Board of Education has approved a charter for a fifth school to open next year. An application has been filed with the board seeking to charter a school to open in 2015.   The Massachusetts Legislature in 2010 raised the cap on charter schools in several of the state’s lowest performing school districts.

   Retired Springfield school principal Willette Johnson is a member of the board of trustees at Baystate Academy.  She admits she used to view charter schools with disdain.

   Total enrollment in charter schools in Springfield is just under 2,600 students. The Springfield Public Schools have about 20,000 students.