Charter school proponents look to expand in Dorchester, Mattapan

By 
Mike Deehan, Special to the Reporter
Dec. 8, 2010

Fourteen would-be charter schools have applied to the State Department of Education to be granted charters to start up new schools in Boston out of 23 across the state. Representatives from several of the applicant schools appeared before a panel of state education officials in Boston City Hall on Tuesday to press their case.

Though plans for the schools are still in the preliminary stages and locations for school facilities are not definite, some of the proponents for the proposals heard Tuesday vowed to serve underprivileged students from Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan.

Supporters packed the City Council Chamber, some wearing bright t-shirts featuring school logos and signs reading “Great schools now! Support Boston charters!” Supporters of the Chinese Immersion School filled nearly an entire third of the chamber's audience area with red t-shirts.

“I believe in charter schools,” Jennifer Daly, co-founder and dean of the Epiphany School, told the panel. After working with street gangs, Daly said it became her dream to open better schools to help young people at risk of being drawn to crime. The problems of youth violence and gangs, Daly said, are “the result of a system unable to educate them effectively.”

Many of the parents who attended the hearing told the panel how charter schools have enabled them to stay in Boston and still ensure an education for their children.

“We live in Dorchester, love our neighborhood and want desperately to stay,” said one proponent of the Chinese Immersion School.

Several of the proposed schools are expansions of charters already operating in Boston and other districts.

The Bridge Boston Charter School is affiliated with Dorchester's Epiphany School, and states in their charter application summary that the school will offer a full-service environment, working closely with parents and the community to develop students' skills.

Another set of proposed schools – Dorchester, Dudley Square and Grove Hall Preparatory Charter Schools – is an outgrowth of the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School and will seek to teach grades five through twelve with a longer school day and deeper community ties than traditional schools.

The charter application process was spurred by last year's landmark education reform law that raised the maximum amount of charter schools districts could authorize.

The hearing comes in the wake of several announced school closures around the city, with a handful of schools in Dorchester set to be shuttered or merged with other schools. Dorchester's East Zone Early Learning Center and Fifield Elementary School are scheduled for closure, and several others are due to merge to save on space and administrative costs. After initially including it on the list of closing facilities, Johnson altered the plan last week and said that Clap Elementary School would remain open as an “innovation school” that will operate in a similar manner to a charter.

The district must overcome a $63 million budget deficit next fiscal year.

The hearing is part of a four-month process of approval for new charters. Six similar hearings were held across the state to hear from applicants and the public before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education makes its final decisions. The state panel included Gov. Deval Patrick's education Secretary Paul Reville, and members of the School Board.