Education Commissioner Chester recommends the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School
Daily Hampshire Gazette Article- February 17, 2012
HOLYOKE – The proposed Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School cleared a key hurdle Thursday in its quest to open in the fall when it won the backing of state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester.
The school, which will draw some of its students from Northampton and South Hadley, was one of four new charter schools the commissioner recommended to the state Board of Education for approval. The other three are Baystate Academy Charter School in Springfield, Collegiate Charter School of Lowell and the Dudley Street Neighborhood School in Boston.
Bob Brick, of Northampton, a founding board member of the Freire school, said supporters were excited to learn that they’d received the commissioner’s approval.
“We’re especially excited for all the students this school will make a real difference for,” said Brick, who was also a founding board member of the 15-year-old Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley.
This marks the second time the Freire school has applied for a charter. Last year, the state rejected the school’s application and asked supporters to resubmit their proposal. The key change in the new application is that it no longer includes plans for a middle school, focusing instead on grades 9 through 12 only.
The state Board of Education will vote on Chester’s recommendations Feb. 28. Last year, the board approved 16 new charter schools, bringing the total number of such schools in Massachusetts to 79.
On Feb. 28, the state board will also consider a five-year renewal application from the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion charter school in Hadley. The school is seeking to expand its kindergarten-through-eighth-grade enrollments and add a high school.
The four recommended new charter schools were among seven applicants asked to submit final proposals to the state last fall. One group withdrew its application in November.
In a statement announcing his recommendations Thursday, Chester emphasized that finalist schools went through a rigorous “accountability” process involving interviews, public hearings and reviews by both state experts and outside reviewers.
“The four groups I am recommending developed compelling proposals,” he said. “If they are granted a charter by the board later this month, I am confident they will be well positioned to improve student outcomes.”
The Freire school, named for Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire, aims to draw 60 percent of its eventual 500 students from Holyoke, according to its application. The rest will come from Northampton, South Hadley, Chicopee, Westfield and West Springfield.
The school’s curriculum focuses on service learning, media literacy and community development. It will also have an extended school day and a participatory governance structure.