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Friday, August 12, 2011

Full speed ahead for charter school

Telegraph Editorial

Nearly a year ago to the day, we heralded the news that New Hampshire was in line to receive an $11.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to encourage the creation of charter schools in the state (Aug. 6: “Brighter days ahead for charter schools”).

At that time, we stated our belief that such schools can be a positive force in the education community and that there was no reason why Greater Nashua couldn’t be a receptive host to the growing charter school movement.

So you can imagine our delight upon learning this week that the seeds for a new charter school are being planted right here in Nashua.

On Monday night, the Board of Education took the first step toward the creation of a charter school, setting in motion a process that could lead to the opening of a district-sponsored school for fourth- through eighth-graders by the 2013-14 school year.

At that meeting, the board adopted a formal mission statement and named nearly two-dozen people – board members, administrators, teachers, parents and others – to serve on either a steering committee or in working groups over the next 12 months to draft a detailed charter for the new school.

Once complete, the steering committee will present its recommendations to the board, which will then vote to accept, modify or reject the proposal.

If approved, Nashua’s would join 10 other public charter schools now operating in the state. The closest one is the Academy for Science and Design Charter School in Merrimack, which opened four years ago with the goal of serving up to 450 students in grades 7-10 with a specific interest in math and science.

Charter schools are public schools with a specific mission that operate independently from the host district and don’t have to adhere to some of the regulations that govern more traditional schools. They provide another choice for parents and students within a public school district, promote innovation in teaching methods, and encourage strong parental involvement in their children’s education.

They also have become quite popular. Nationally, charter schools operate in 40 states and the District of Columbia, where enrollment more than tripled between the 1999-2000 school year and 2008-09. As of last fall, 5,543 charter schools were serving the needs of more than 1.7 million students, according to figures compiled by The Center for Education Reform.

Based on its newly approved mission statement, the Nashua school would serve “as a laboratory for creating innovative environments for teaching and learning, which will over time be replicated to other learning environments for the benefit of all Nashua students.”

It also promises “learning shall be highly personalized and engaging for each student” and would “foster innovative environments for student and staff learning without the constraints of traditional models for education.”

While we would like to think “innovation” and “engaging” students in their education take place every day in classrooms across the city, a charter school in the district would give parents another option when evaluating what’s the best learning environment for their particular student.

Yes, there is still plenty of work to do, but Superintendent Mark Conrad and the school board should be commended for taking the initiative for what would be among the first – if not the first – district-sponsored charter schools in the state.