Harpswell charter school gets 'positive' state assessment

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HARPSWELL — A state report released this week says the Harpswell Coastal Academy charter school is making good progress in its first few months.

But there is some room for improvement.

The Maine Charter School Commission approved the 90-day report on Tuesday. The preliminary report will be followed by annual reports every spring, which will help the commission assess whether to renew the school’s charter in five years.

“I would say it’s positive,” Bob Kautz, the commission’s executive director, said of the report on HCA. “They have some areas for growth, like all of them do. (But) that’s not unexpected and there’s nothing negative about it.” 

The school, which opened in September, serves about 60 sixth- and ninth-grade students. It will expand over the next few years to eventually support grades 6-12 with a student population of 280 by 2018.

The five-page report gives the school high marks for engaging students and teachers; having a supportive group of parents, board members and volunteers, and having an organizational structure that “supports students in achieving high standards in a variety of ways.”

“Parents love the school and how the faculty and staff invest in their children,” the report said. “They are very supportive and patient, understanding there are details the faculty and staff are still working out.”

It added that “students expressed excitement about the methods with which they are allowed to learn, as a 6th grader aptly stated this is how ‘information is permanently cementing in my brain.'”

But for all the praise, commission members Heidi Sampson, Shelley Reed and John Bird, who authored the report, said there are some improvements needed.

They include the need to have better communication with parents, implementation of a student assessment plan, advance publication of HCA board meeting agendas, and more participation from parents in board meetings.

“Concerns expressed by parents include communication to the parents,” the report said. “For example, they would like specific communication about the safety plan. They also desire a full understanding of the paperless philosophy and its inner workings.”

John D’Anieri, headmaster of HCA, said he and his staff have already improved some of the problem areas, while continuing to work on others.

“We are deliberately addressing imperatives as we can and we’re clearly now able to deal with some things that took a little longer to get around to,” he said.

For instance, D’Anieri said, the school has already hired a consultant to determine what kind of assessment plan will be adopted. He said it will likely be something similar to the Smarter Balance assessment, which will be adopted by public schools statewide next year.

D’Anieri said he would have implemented the Smarter Balance assessment sooner, but it’s only in its pilot phase right now.

As for communication issues with parents, the headmaster said he has already doubled the frequency of the school’s weekly parent newsletter. He said he also had a feeling parent conferences being held this week would clear the air.

Overall, D’Anieri said he’s encouraged by the school’s progress.

He said the community and board members have been very supportive, noting that even some community members with no connection to the school have been lending hands.

“(We have) a box of maps accumulated by a local map collector,” D’Anieri said. “Things like that happen all the time.”

“More importantly,” he said, “our kids are happy and are learning and are treating each other really well.”

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.