FAIRFIELD — The newly released contract for the first charter school in Maine has some unusual standards for the students, many of whom are already considered to be at a high risk of dropping out from a mainstream high school.

“The profile of our kids are those who are already frustrated with high school,” Glenn Cummings, president of the Maine Academy for Natural Sciences, said.

Cummings said that expectations for the incoming class of about 46 students are “high but reasonable.” The school expects to add approximately 20 students per year, reaching 150 students by 2016. The school opened last September, without the charter designation, with 21 students: 11 boarding and 10 day students.

“We tried to negotiate a contract that said, ‘let’s focus on student growth and completion, but not weight as much how they’re going to do immediately on standardized test scores.’ We don’t think they’re going to all of a sudden get an 800 on their SATs in math.”

The five-year charter contract, signed on Aug. 1, contains benchmarks for success that the school must meet to demonstrate that it is a reasonable alternative to mainstream public schools.

The school expects to have higher-than-average attendance, but lower-than-average test scores, for the upcoming school year.

With about half of the students living on campus, the school predicted that the attendance rate would be in excess of 93 percent.

Even though they will be attending a charter school, the academic proficiency rates on standardized tests will still be measured against the state levels.

Under the contract, the number of students who need to demonstrate proficiency on various subjects will be 20 percent below the state average for that year.

Graduation rates are another measure.

“The state average is about 81 percent between eighth grade and graduation,” Cummings said. “We marked ourselves down a little bit from that, but we still held a high standard. I think it’s 60 percent.”

The charter school application to the state, however, establishes higher goals than the contract mandates, targeting a 75 percent graduation rate.

The lower-than-average requirements reflect the target population that the school seeks to serve.

Cummings said that the student profile will conform to a long-held mission of Good Will-Hinckley, which operated a residential school for at-risk students for 121 years on the sprawling, 2,450-acre campus, before closing its core operations in the summer of 2009 because of financial problems.

“Our board has always wanted to work with students who needed a helping hand, students who needed a home but also had a desire for education and working on a farm and hard work,” Cummings said. “Our board really wanted to stay with that mission. We could have gone to a high-end environmental school.”

The charter school designation will allow the school to grow, he said.

The sale of some of the Good Will-Hinckley campus to the Kennebec Valley Community College gave another reason for hope.

When Good Will-Hinckley closed, about 100 employees were laid off. The academy has seven teachers.

“Between us and the community college, we have a good chance of bringing those 100 jobs back that were lost. That’s good news for the region,” said Cummings.

Education Director Troy Frost said that the school’s learning environment, which includes traditional farming and forestry activities, will help students achieve.

“These are students who are very capable,” Frost said. “They just want part of their day to be outdoors, using the environment as the classroom. They want to learn with their hands. A lot of the traditional public schools don’t offer that, at least not on a daily basis.”

The challenge, said Frost, is turning an experience in a greenhouse or the forest into higher test scores.

“Part of our schedule will be students taking that hands on learning and tying them to the standards,” Frost said.

Sept. 19 will mark the beginning of a two-week orientation on the campus, after which instruction will begin.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

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