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Debate on Somerville Progressive Charter School Isn't Over

If the state's board of education votes to deny a charter, the creators of the school will submit a refined application later this year.

After the state’s education commissioner announced last week that he wouldn’t support the proposed Somerville Progressive Charter School, the welcome note on the school’s website changed to reflect the creators’ revised goal. 

“There is a new public school which will hopefully be opening in Somerville in the Fall [sic] of 2013.”

For months, Somerville School Committee members, parents and teachers debated, among many issues, whether or not this publicly funded independent Commonwealth charter school would educate English language learners and teach science better than the district’s elementary schools do.

And although Progress Together for Somerville, a group of parents who oppose the charter school, declared in a statement that the “battle” was over, that’s not the case.  

Selena Fitanides, the spokeswoman for the school, said in a previous interview with Somerville Patch that a rejection letter from the Massachusetts Board of Education wouldn’t stop her and other founders from applying again.

“We will apply and apply and apply until we get this school because we’re committed to Somerville.” 

Somerville Progressive Charter School redux

The Board of Education must still vote to approve or deny the charter at their Feb. 28 meeting.

But Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has stated that the Somerville Progressive Charter School, as its application is written, did not have a "strong likelihood of success in closing the achievement gap and improving public education in Massachusetts." 

"Many aspects of the educational program, fiscal operations, and management are not well defined," Chester wrote in a Feb. 16 memo to the board. "It is not clear that the founding group had the capacity to establish and manage a charter school. Because I am not recommending approval, we did not complete the provenprovider analysis for this application." 

Fitanides said she felt encouraged upon receiving on Tuesday Chester’s reasons for not endorsing the school. 

“Basically the gist of most of the criticism is that they need more info,” she said. “There wasn’t any piece of the application where they said, “This was a terrible idea” or “This won’t work.””

So over the next five months, the group will explain in more detail the characteristics of the school, she said. Then in July they will submit a prospectus to the education department and go through the same review process they went through last year.

Fitanides still believes that many Somerville families want the Somerville Progressive Charter School to open but worries that last year’s conflict, including opposition from public officials, might deter them from joining the campaign.

"If the debate is going to change and become more civil," she said, "they are going to be the ones to change it" 

For now, she hasn’t scheduled any meetings with members of the School Committee or Progress Together for Somerville.

Somerville School Committee Chairman Paul Bockelman said that members would be “happy to talk at all times.” But because the board hasn’t yet voted, he wasn’t willing to speculate how committee members would approach another year of debate about the proposed school.

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