Four Rivers charter renewed despite some local objections

  • Students at Four Rivers Public Charter School in Greenfield. Recorder File Photo

Recorder Staff
Friday, December 15, 2017

GREENFIELD — Despite objections from some school superintendents in the county, the state has renewed the Four Rivers Charter Public School for another five years.

In a decision announced by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Friday, acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson pointed to the Colrain Road school’s academic achievements, in accordance with state guidelines and the school’s mission statement.

Additionally, the commissioner responded to the call by three superintendents from Mahar Regional School District, Frontier Regional School District and Mohawk Trail Regional School to consider ending the school’s charter because of its potential harm to their schools as they face increasingly tight budgets and drops in enrollment.

“I am sympathetic to the challenges faced by rural school districts with declining enrollment,” Wulfson said in a Dec. 6 memorandum to recommend the renewal of the charter school. “But given that the Legislature has prescribed very specific limits on how much a school district can spend on charter tuition, and given that (Four Rivers’) sending districts are all well within those statutory limits, I believe the renewal decision must focus on the school’s performance.”

This year completes the fifth year of Four River’s third charter. The fourth charter covers 2018-2023.

Four Rivers’ Principal Peter Garbus said he hopes this can mark the shift to cooperation among schools in the region.

“Rather than wish we would go away, districts might instead choose to collaborate and work together to create more excellent learning opportunities for all students,” Garbus said in a statement. “If these districts are losing students to School Choice, homeschooling, and vocational schools, what if we focus on how approaches to teaching and learning and positive school culture might draw these students back to our schools?”

In the acting commissioner’s recommendation to renew the charter, he indicated that in the most recent five-year charter term for the school that opened in 2003, Four Rivers had a “successful program,” which was between the 70th and 80th percentile on state assessments.

Wulfson did note the school was placed in “Level 2” for not “meeting gap-narrowing goals for low assessment participation.”

The letter points to several testing numbers that were above statewide averages for the school that enrolled 220 students last school year. The school also exceeded statewide averages regarding graduation rates and dropout rates.

“The school is implementing its mission and key design elements, implements a Recruitment and Retention plan, disseminated its best practices, is organizationally viable and met a majority of measures contained in its accountability plan,” Wulfson said in his letter.

Addressing the recommendation by three regional superintendents to not extend the charter, Wulfson pointed toward the enrollment figures at Mohawk. He cited that in 2002, the year before Four Rivers opened, the Mohawk enrolled 1,633 students; in the 2016-17 school year, it enrolled 966 students. But only 47 of Mohawk’s students go to the charter school.

Mohawk’s Superintendent Michael Buoniconti previously said in a statement, calling to not renew the charter:

“I urge the Mass. Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to recognize that western Franklin County is not an urban area struggling with failed schools,” Buoniconti said. “Our schools operate in a rural region struggling with declining enrollment and financial sustainability.”

In Wulfson’s report, he also noted that soon his department will release a report that will analyze the challenges of rural school districts in more depth.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:


413-772-0261, ext. 264