AUGUSTA — Up to eight charter schools could open in Maine this fall.

Nine groups have submitted notices of intent to apply for charters by the mid-week deadline, but one — a high school in the Waldo County town of Monroe — would not start classes until September 2013.

The number of applicants is higher than some state education officials, including Maine Charter School Commission Chairman James Banks Sr., had expected.

“I thought we might get five or six, but nine was a little more than I anticipated,” Banks said. “I think there are always individuals who believe in different approaches to education. … Charter schools kind of offer them that opportunity.”

Charter schools are public schools that are relieved of some of the regulations and restrictions on traditional public schools. Some charters schools may offer innovative or alternative educational programs or specialize in areas such as the arts or environmental studies.

A charter is a contract between a school’s governing board and the authorizer that oversees the school’s performance.

The groups that have submitted notices of intent will apply for a charter with the Charter School Commission, but local school boards also can authorize charter schools in their communities. Only the state commission can authorize virtual charter schools, which do not count against the cap of 10 schools it can authorize in the next decade.

Maine law requires that charter schools be governed by nonprofit, nonreligious organizations. Brick-and-mortar schools may contract out for limited educational services, while virtual schools can contract for program design and management.

The full applications to the commission — including details about curriculum, leadership, staffing, facilities and finances — are due June 29, but many groups intend to apply sooner. A charter with the commission must be in place 60 days before classes start.

Four notices of intent came in on Wednesday, proposing:

* Fiddlehead Art & Science School in Gray. For nine years, Fiddlehead Art & Science Center has offered preschool based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, which emphasizes child-directed learning and exploration.

The center opened a private kindergarten two years ago. Executive Director Jacinda Cotton-Castro hopes to open a charter school this fall with 30 students in kindergarten through grade five, then expand up to eighth grade and 140 students in the course of a decade.

Cotton-Castro said she’s excited to offer another option for families in Gray and surrounding communities.

“I grew up in the back woods of Maine, so to have choices available for kids means a lot to me,” she said.

* John Jenkins Leadership Academy, a virtual program for grades seven through 12.

Lewiston resident John Jenkins is a motivational speaker and was mayor of Lewiston and Auburn, a state senator and a write-in candidate in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

In his letter, he said his school would promote leadership and entrepreneurship based on “the 5-H principle: Heart of an owner, head of a customer, hand of experience, honor of a leader, hunger of a winner.”

Jenkins projects enrolling 150 students in the first year and an eventual total of 1,000.

He identified the school’s applicant organization as “John Jenkins — PepTalk.com,” which did not appear to be registered with the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday. Jenkins did not respond to a phone message or an email.

* Maine Connections Academy, a virtual school for kindergarten through grade 12.

A virtual school will benefit students in many situations, such as those who need to work faster or slower than the average, who need flexible schedules because of athletics or music, or who are too ill to attend school, said Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough.

“I think it just offers parents more choices,” Volk said. “There’s such a variety of learning styles and learning abilities out there.”

Volk, who was a sponsor of the bill creating charter schools in Maine and has sponsored other bills on school choice and education reform, said she will be a founding board member of Maine Connections Academy, a nonprofit organization that has not yet been incorporated.

The group plans to contract with Connections Education, a for-profit company based in Maryland, to provide the curriculum, materials and management services.

They project enrolling 300 students in the first year and an eventual total of 3,000.

* Rural Aspirations Project, a small high school in Monroe.

Korah Soll, co-founder of the group, wrote that the school would not open until 2013, but they are applying early to be eligible for a federal grant due June 6.

The school would start with 12 students and expand to 24, serving students from Waldo County and addressing “educational, community and economic development gaps in rural Maine.” The students would develop their own businesses.

Those applicants join five others who submitted letters of intent earlier:

* Baxter Academy of Technology and Science, a high school in Portland focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

* Cornville Regional Charter School, an elementary and middle school using proficiency-based education and supplementing the curriculum with traditional crafts such as knitting and woodworking.

* Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, an agricultural and environmental magnet school in Fairfield run by Good Will-Hinckley. The school would convert to a charter to improve its financial sustainability and expand enrollment.

* Maine Virtual Academy, a virtual school for kindergarten through grade 12, run by Virginia-based company K12 Virtual Schools.

* Monson Academy, which would start as an elementary school and expand to include high school and college. The curriculum would emphasize a connection with nature.

Banks said the Charter School Commission will meet Monday to organize teams of commissioners and outside experts who will review applications as they come in.

The commission will issue another request for proposals in late August for applications to open charter schools in 2013.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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