AUGUSTA — Two groups hoping to open charter schools in Maine next fall went over details of their proposals before the Maine Charter School Commission on Monday during a series of interviews and public hearings in advance of the commission’s vote next month.

The two finalists are Snow Pond Arts Academy, which would be a performing arts high school in Sidney on the campus of the New England Music Camp, and Acadia Academy, which would open a pre-K-through-sixth-grade charter school in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

“I just think it would be really awesome to have a music charter school for the arts in Maine,” 11-year-old Sedona Kmen said of the Snow Ponds Arts Academy proposal. The South China sixth-grader, who is homeschooled, already takes violin lessons through Snow Pond programs. “When I heard about it …. I was like, ‘Dad, can I please, please go?’ “

Supporters of the second proposal, Acadia Academy, said they wanted an alternative to the elementary schools in Lewiston and Auburn.

“I really believe in the power of choice in education,” said Lori Melanson of South Livermore, who urged the commission to support Acadia Academy. Her own school-age son has special emotional needs and she thinks a school like Acadia would be better. “Parents like me have suffered from the lack of choice.”

No one spoke out against Snow Pond, but the superintendents of both Lewiston and Auburn school districts said they oppose the Acadia Academy proposal.

Both superintendents said Acadia Academy officials, who must tell the commission how their school differs from local education offerings, had misrepresented district schools. The superintendents said the errors include understating the range of programs the elementary schools offer students and overstating average class size.

The commission took no action Monday, but will vote Nov. 17 on whether to enter contract negotiations with either school. If a contract is signed, the school is granted a charter by the state and would open in the fall of 2016.

State law allows a maximum of 10 charter schools. Maine already has five brick-and-mortar charter schools and two virtual charter schools. A total of 1,540 students attend charter schools in Maine, which has about 184,000 students in all.

SNOW POND ARTS ACADEMY

Snow Pond Arts Academy would be affiliated with the 80-year-old New England Music Camp Association, much like the relationship between the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences charter school and its affiliate Good Will-Hinckley, a private school in Fairfield.

In both cases, the charter school has contractual relationships with the affiliate to provide certain services, but is a separate entity with an independent board of directors.

Snow Pond Arts Academy would serve ninth- through 12th-graders on the same 40-acre campus used by the New England Music Camp summer program, and have access to its facilities and instruments. Students must attend all classes on site, with local teachers using the education curriculum from K12 Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, which is the education services provider for Maine Virtual Academy, one of the state’s virtual charter schools.

Students at Snow Pond Arts Academy would not be taught virtually, officials said, describing the school as the first to offer a complete “blended learning” environment of online curriculum and face-to-face instruction.

ACADIA ACADEMY

Acadia Academy, which also applied last year and did not make it this far in the process, said it would offer a unique student experience because of individual attention, small class size and a blending of traditional classroom learning and hands-on “experiential” learning.

On Monday, the school’s board chairman, Chris Brann, spelled out explicitly that although the school was affiliated with John F. Murphy Homes, which provides programs for special needs adults and children, the pre-K-through-sixth-grade school would not be a special needs school.

The commissioners questioned the Acadia Academy representatives about several points, noting that there was not a contract spelling out how much John F. Murphy Homes, the education service provider, would be charging them, how they would recruit students to ensure a broad representation of Lewiston-Auburn’s diverse population, and for details about their financial outlook, particularly an agreement reached in recent weeks with local developer David Gendron to donate the school’s building and provide the school with a $300,000 loan.

When asked by Commissioner Jana LaPoint how the deal with Gendron came about, board member Tracy Turner told the commission Gendron was her father.

“He saw my passion for this school. He knows how much it means for me,” Turner told the commission.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine


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