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Application offers detail on proposed Harpswell charter school

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Application offers detail on proposed Harpswell charter school

HARPSWELL — How do we convince children to stay in Maine after they graduate? And how do we convince them to participate in activities that further Maine values?

These are two of the core questions Joe Grady said the Harpswell Coastal Academy, a proposed charter school currently under state review, hope to address.

Grady, HCA board chairman, Wednesday said the charter school would provide project-based learning for students in grades 6-12 that provide authentic experiences with real impact in the school's community.

"The reason we started this conversation is most of the adults (in Harpswell) have seen the experience of having their kids getting educated and then leaving to work and live elsewhere," said Grady, who is proprietor of Two Coves Farm in Harpswell and was a teacher at Bonny Eagle High School and Casco Bay High School.

HCA is designed to reverse that trend, Grady said. Its curriculum will encourage students to become involved in their communities and work on school projects that have a real-world impact.

These kinds of projects could include creating a magazine that follows the steps of a real-world publisher, reviewing and suggesting policy changes to local ordinances, working with the town's local resources, and designing renovations for the interior of a local building.

The proposed charter school's project-based approach is one of the many details laid out in HCA's 468-page charter application, which was filed with the Maine Charter School Commission on Nov. 15 and is now available online, according to the commission's executive director, Bob Kautz.

"In a review process, the application is reviewed and the commission determines if the application is to be considered further," Kautz said Wednesday. If considered for further review, he said HCA's board would then be interviewed and a public hearing would be held in a local venue.

Kautz said the latest HCA would have to wait to hear a final verdict is the first week of February, or 90 days after the application was filed, as required by state law.

According to HCA's charter application, the school could open as early as fall 2013 and start with grades 6 and 9 if approved by the Maine Charter School Commission. The school would eventually grow to accommodate grades 6-12 by the 2016-2017 school year.

HCA is looking to attract students from Bath, Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell, Lisbon, Pownal and Topsham, but capacity is only expected to reach 280 by the 2017-2018 school year, according to the application.

To prepare for the possibility of a charter school that could attract students from his district, School Administrative District 75 Superintendent Brad Smith said he would make a presentation on charter schools to the School Board on Thursday.

Smith said he planned to discuss the legal aspects of charter schools and how schools like HCA could possibly impact SAD 75.

Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said his district is cautious of any charter school that sets up nearby, because of the way state law draws school subsidies away from the district.

"They not only get state subsidies, but they also get local subsidies as well, and that is a problem," Perzanoski said. He said this means a charter school could draw money from the school district's budget.

Perzanoski said the problem exists more with existing state law than it does with any charter school.

Grady said he's well aware of criticism lodged against charter schools, but he thinks students deserve to have a choice when it comes to their education. He also said feedback to HCA has mostly been positive.

"Most of the people I've met have expressed loads of support and positive feedback," Grady said. "We're convinced choice is a good thing."

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