The Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney is moving forward with an application to set up a charter school focused on music and performance arts that could open as soon as next year.

The center, with headquarters off Pond Road on the shore of Messalonskee Lake in Sidney, hosts the summer New England Music Camp and holds yearlong music and theater programs in collaboration with local schools and organizations.

It filed an intent to submit an application with the Maine Charter School Commission in late June. Three slots are available for new charter schools in the state, and five schools intend to submit applications. Applications are due Sept. 1.

If selected to start a charter school, Snow Pond wants to work in collaboration with Regional School District 18 and not as a competitor, center director John Wiggin said in an interview Thursday afternoon. RSU 18 consists of Oakland, Sidney, China, Belgrade and Rome.

“We want this to be something that is a real asset to the community at large,” Wiggin said.

The center plans to have a grade 9-12 high school program that eventually will have 400 full-time students. If the charter commission approves it, the school would open in 2016 with about 120 students in grades 9 and 10, then add new students each year until it reaches its full capacity in seven or eight years, Wiggin said.

Snow Pond submitted an intent to file an application with the charter commission last year but withdrew it after deciding it wasn’t ready to apply, he said.

As it grows, the school hopes to attract residential students from outside central Maine.

“I don’t want us to be overly dependent on kids from this area,” Wiggin said.

The school hopes to enhance students’ education in local school districts with additional music and performance classes. The school aims to have about 100 students coming on a part-time basis.

“We want to enhance and improve what’s already in place,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is drain the talent at the local schools.”

Snow Pond Center for the Arts hosts the New England Music Camp every year, but it also has local music, dance and theater programs for adults and youth. It works with the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville and Augusta public schools on after-school programs, and last year it tried to get an education grant to host its own after-school program. It didn’t get the grant, but it intends to try again for next year.

The proposed charter school would use the center’s resources and property off Pond Road in Sidney, but would have an independent board of directors. The center has put together a 10-person founders group to guide the charter application process and has brought on three consultants, including Rich Abramson, the former superintendent of Maranacook Area Schools in Readfield and previously the interim president of Good-Will Hinckley in Fairfield.

The group has contacted neighboring school districts — Augusta, Maranacook Area and RSU 18 — and plans to meet soon with the Waterville School Department, Wiggin said. It has also contacted local academic institutions and the nonprofit group Waterville Creates! to discuss its plans.

“This is not my project or Snow Pond’s project,” Wiggin said. “This is, in the broadest sense, the community’s project.”

The proposed charter school is just one part of Snow Pond’s long-term strategic plan to create an “engaged learning community” that can attract professionals who may help with economic revitalization, Wiggin said. Strengthening and diversifying the area’s education opportunities is a place to start on that project, he added.

“This is the place they want to live because it is great education, great quality of life, great art and culture,” Wiggin said of the area he wants to help create.

The founders group is sensitive to tension between charter schools and traditional public school districts, particularly about a funding arrangement wherein tuition payments for students attending charter schools came from the local school district. That relationship alarmed school districts near charter schools that saw the amount they paid to the schools rise substantially as the charter enrollment increased.

A law passed earlier this year changed that dynamic so that funding for charter schools comes directly from the state Department of Education.

On Thursday, recently elected RSU 18 School Board Chairman Jim Isgro, of Sidney, said Snow Pond has been an “awesome asset” for central Maine and understands that the school wants to develop in closer collaboration with the school district. He said he needs to learn more about the school’s plans before making a call on it.

“I think it behooves us to listen and encourage them,” Isgro said. “I guess we’ll see.”

Snow Pond intends to smooth some of the possible tensions by emphasizing its role as a complement to the area’s education resources, not a competitor, Wiggin said. The center will continue to grow its programs outside of the charter school, introducing students to music and performance from a young age. Music has been shown to improve critical thinking skills and help with childhood development, Wiggin said. His family has operated the center since the 1930s.

“I think it is really important to understand that this is not just a charter,” Wiggin said. “This is an arts center that is really working with students from the beginning, from kindergarten up.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire


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