CORNVILLE — The Cornville Regional Charter School, Maine’s first elementary charter school, has been given state approval to add a charter high school and pre-kindergarten classes to its program.

Travis Works, the school’s executive director and principal, said the vote Tuesday by the Maine Charter Commission marks a historic moment, as the school becomes Maine’s first pre-kindergarten-through-grade-12 charter school. The expansion of the school, which has more than 140 students, also would involve school space for high school students in downtown Skowhegan.

“The Cornville campus is going to reap the benefits of the expansion, because with more learners comes more funding,” Works said Tuesday. “We’re overjoyed by the vote. I am ecstatic with the charter commission’s approval to expand our programming from pre-K to high school.”

Bob Kautz, executive director of the Maine Charter School Commission, said by phone Tuesday that the commission’s review team liked what they saw in the Cornville proposal to expand its programming.

“The commission was pleased with the proposal that they had made for an expansion of their K-8 program to be pre-K through high school and being able to have the continuity of the program they have designed and been so successful with,” Kautz said Tuesday. “It’s one that appeals to the parents and students who have been involved with the school.”

Kautz said the next steps for the school will include planning for program expansion and obtaining the materials needed to continue its successes, including hiring the additional staff it will need for both programs. The school has applied to the state to become an approved pre-school, which is needed before it can open, Kautz said.

“With notification (of expansion approval by the commission) for both of them here in December, it gives them a good six to eight months to prepare to bring it all about.”

Works said next year the school will have the ability to hire a full-time foreign language teacher and a physical education and health teacher.

“As we grow, we will add a music facilitator, guidance counselor and other positions that are challenging with only 144 learners,” Works said. “These new positions will work with all of our learners across the three campuses and therefore strengthen our programming.”

The vote by the six commission members Tuesday was unanimous.

“I am looking forward to seeing the innovative program Cornville has implemented at the K-8 level expanded to Pre-K,” Laurie Pendleton, chairwoman of the charter commission, said via email Tuesday. “I’m also pleased that they will now have the ability to provide the continuation of the program to high school.”

A charter school is a public school that receives public money, but is created and operated by parents, teachers and community leaders, free of the rules and regulations of the area school district. Charter schools are open to all regional students, with no additional tuition fees or admissions tests.

Teachers touch on everyday skills, including cooking, knitting, gardening and woodworking, along with classroom lessons based on Maine’s Common Core of Learning. Works said the National Alliance for Charter Schools is conducting a video case study of the Cornville school’s success, and schools from as far away as South Dakota have sent teams of educators to learn about ways to replicate their model.

The Maine Department of Education makes monthly payments directly to approved public charter schools because of a bill enacted last year. The process is the same way the department has long distributed funds to traditional public school districts.

The pre-kindergarten students will be housed in the Skowhegan Nursery School on Dr. Mann Road, and the high school will be in the former Holland’s Variety Drug store, with entrances on Water Street and Commercial Street, in downtown Skowhegan. Works said the school is in the process of buying the former drugstore and will convert the building into classrooms and open space, with an eye on restoring the upper floor to its original wood-and-plaster appearance.

“We were just waiting to get the approval from the Charter Commission, so now we can move forward,” Works said. “Our next step is to continue with the Planning Board process and prepare for recruiting high-quality staff.”

He said the charter high school will have an elevator from the basement to the second story of the building, which once served as law offices for attorneys working across the hall at the former 12th District Court in Skowhegan, which moved in 1997 to a new building.

“Our plan is to do renovations to the first floor and renovations to the second floor to bring it back to the original floor plan from 1905,” he said. “On the first floor we’ll have classrooms that have glass walls, folding and retractable glass walls.”

Works said the school will use state subsidy and a borrowing plan to complete the work. Loans would have to be approved by the school’s board of directors.

Works said the school will share older students between the two campuses — in Cornville and downtown Skowhegan.

“Just because a learner is 13 doesn’t mean they automatically go downtown,” he said. “Learners that are 12 that are socially, emotionally ready and academically ready would have the option of downtown.”

Built as a consolidated school in 1956 and remodeled with a new wing in 1990, Cornville Elementary School was closed by Skowhegan-based Regional School Unit 54 in 2010 as a means to cut costs. The town voted to take over the school in June of that year.

The state Charter School Commission approved the Cornville charter in July 2012. A bingo-style lottery was held in September that year to determine which students who applied from several surrounding towns would attend. It opened Oct. 1, 2012, with 60 students in kindergarten through grade 6. The school now has 144 students in kindergarten through grade 8.

The charter school has a unique approach to learning, with students grouped by ability, not grade level. The school is based on students being self-directed and independent, according to Works.

The Charter Commission voted unanimously in November to renew the charters of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley and the Cornville Regional Charter School for five more years. At a public hearing in November on the Hinckley campus, several parents and students said they wanted the high school so that students can go to a high school with the same learning style as the charter elementary school, the Portland Press Herald reported. But some critics said the proposed site poses traffic and parking problems, and local merchants said the area can attract homeless or intoxicated people who could pose a safety concern.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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