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Four Rivers school expands

GREENFIELD — Four Rivers Charter Public School leaders acknowledge that their recently completed 2,500-square-foot addition may not seem as impressive or significant as, say, a new $66 million high school.

Still, they believe that the $495,000 expansion — which created a new lobby for the high school building and added two new classrooms — represents a coming of age for the 11-year charter school, which teaches 215 students on an annual $3 million budget.

“We feel like we’ve arrived at a pretty significant moment ... (like) the completion of this addition brings us to our full self in a way,” said Principal Peter Garbus.

The expansion allows for each homeroom to finally have its own space in the school, he said. It opens up a hallway that had been a bottleneck of foot traffic and provides new wall space to display student work.

They’re small improvements, but ones that school leaders say they had been saving up for during the past five years.

And they come at a time when students routinely score proficient or advanced on standardized tests and a year after state officials praised the school’s growth. Four Rivers is in the first year of its third charter, which will take the school through 2018.

“We’ve arrived. ... I never thought I’d feel like that,” said Susan Durkee, assistant principal and one of the school’s original founders.

“It’s like biking up hill,” she said. “In a way it sort of feels like ... we’ve (made it) up the hill and we’re cruising now. And that feels awesome.”

Yet there’s always more work to be done. The Four Rivers Education Foundation will begin saving money for the next facility project and school officials would ideally like to see a gymnasium built in the years to come.

School leaders also want to collaborate more with other Franklin County schools, something they say hasn’t happened much during the past 11 years.

“I feel like we exist to be open software,” said Garbus. “Whatever we come up with, we make accessible and available for anybody who would like to look at it (or) use our experience to take some steps ahead.”

That relationship can work both ways, said Garbus and Durkee, who acknowledge there’s plenty that they can learn from the county’s public schools.

They said they still sometimes encounter hostility from people opposed to charter schools, who claim that Four Rivers is unjustly stealing students (and money) from other districts.

“We’re not competitors. ... We are another option,” said Durkee. “If we weren’t needed we would happily close our doors, but people are coming for a reason.”

Garbus said that the school receives between 75 and 90 applications each year to enter the lottery for seventh-grade enrollment. There are 36 open spots each year, plus occasional vacancies in eighth grade and high school.

He doesn’t anticipate the student enrollment size increasing in the years to come.

The high school building, which features the new addition, was built in 2005. It’s right next to the middle school building, which was completed in 2003, the year the school opened.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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