The month of May opened with the official granting of 16 charters. That’s a great start by the Patrick administration on implementing the charter provision of the January 2010 education law. Full implementation of the law will double the number of students (reaching perhaps 55-60,000 students) and will likely double the number of charter schools operating in the Bay State.
With the announcement of the Boston Compact, charters are working hard to identify and secure locations for the new schools. And with charters moving from a focus on poor, minority students to attracting higher percentages of special needs students and English language learners, many operators are looking for models that successfully drive high academic achievement for these populations. In the case of one newly authorized charter, the MATCH School created a partnership with the Lawrence Community Day School, which does a tremendous job in educating English language learners.
As new charters and existing district options look for ways to engage students with special needs and difficulty remaining in school, they have a strong model to learn from at Phoenix Charter Academy (PCA). PCA is located in Chelsea and serves students from Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, Revere, Winthrop, and Boston. PCA’s mission differs from that of a number of existing charters: The school was explicitly created to address the needs of dropouts, troubled kids with severe truancy records, and kids who needed a second (or even a third or fourth) chance. Thus the “phoenix rising” referenced in the school’s name. Kids at the school range in age from 14-22 and experience a pairing of rigorous academics and “relentless support.”
The widely divergent backgrounds of the students, who can be single mothers, 15-year-olds or even students up to 22 years of age makes the attainment of academic excellence a challenge because of all that is going on in their lives. As Beth notes, the school takes great pains to give them the space to focus on academics.
PCA opened its doors in 2006 growing from 75 first-year students to 200 in this academic year. Its students’ achievements are really impressive, so over the next few days, I’d like to share thoughts that I got on videotape from Beth on core challenges and how PCA has met them, specifically:
- How the school’s culture is established and maintained
- Teacher retention in a school that has set itself a very hard mission
- The benefits of its fellowship/tutoring program
- Goal setting for a student body with widely divergent backgrounds