Harpswell charter school wins unanimous approval from state panel

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HARPSWELL — Harpswell Coastal Academy received unanimous approval Tuesday afternoon from the Maine Charter School Commission. 

John D’Anieri, HCA’s education consultant, said the commission cast the 7-0 vote shortly after 2 p.m.

“I’m thrilled. It’s been a lot of hard work,” D’Anieri said. “One of the things the commission members said is they were really impressed with the degree to which it was a community-led initiative and that it’s filling a need felt by the community.”

Another charter school, The Fiddlehead School of Arts and Sciences in Gray, also received approval by a 6-1 vote.

Robert Kautz, executive director of the commission, said the panel will now begin negotiating a charter contract with HCA’s board. The contract will hammer out details that will help govern the school.

“With the successful completion of the charter contract, they will be ready to roll,” Kautz said.

The commission’s approval means HCA will have to gather preliminary enrollment figures by April 1 to open in the fall, D’Anieri said. There are no restrictions for enrollment, but if the school “gets more students than there are stations for,” HCA will have to conduct a lottery by March 30.

“The purpose is that enables us to notify the (public school) districts how many students of each district are expected to come,” D’Anieri said. He said this will determine how much of the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding will be transferred to the charter school.

The school’s catchment area includes Bath, Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell, Lisbon, Pownal and Topsham, or the Regional School Unit 1, Regional School Unit 5, School Administrative District 75, Brunswick and Lisbon school districts.

HCA is expected to enroll 30 sixth-grade students and 30 ninth-grade students in its first year. The school is then expected to grow to accommodate grades 6-12 with enrollment of 280 students  by the 2017-2018 school year.

“We’re really meeting a need that’s pretty clearly identified amongst lots of parents,” D’Anieri said. He said the board will begin to hold informational meetings to encourage families to enroll their children or simply learn more about the charter school.

HCA Board members previously touted the school’s proposed project-based learning approach as a unique alternative in the Harpswell area.

Joseph Grady, chairman of the HCA board, said the school will focus on educational projects that have a real-world impact on Harpswell’s community and encourage students to consider staying in Maine for work.

Grady said he attributed HCA’s approval to the strength of its application and the public support it received.

“I think we have a good solid plan,” Grady said. He said the commission showed it believes “there’s a diverse, committed group of people here who are going to make this happen.”

Chris Cousins of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report. Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.