A new school model in Warwick

  • Warwick Community School RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Published: 9/10/2019 9:03:35 AM

Retool your thinking on charter schools. A completely different animal — a public charter school — is coming to Warwick.

Earlier this year the Pioneer Valley Regional School District closed a budget gap with money borrowed from the Commonwealth. Leyden’s elementary school was closed as a cost-cutting measure. Warwick’s school needs to slash costs or may close too.

The solution? A new school structure: a Horace Mann conversion public charter school.

Warwick is buzzing. Parents, residents, teachers, consultant Susan Hollins, the Selectboard and Superintendent Jon Scagel, are together designing a new type of charter school that will remain part of the Pioneer Valley School District. Our school will stay small, within the district, but go through a redesign and conversion. Converting a public school to a public charter school has never been done in the Bay State, so we’re excited to break new ground.

Most charter schools steal students from public schools. A Horace Mann conversion public charter school remains part of the public school system. No public funds are siphoned out of the district. It will attract Chapter 70 monies, draw students through School Choice (with the approval of the superintendent) and its students take the MCAS tests.

The differences: flexibility, innovation and cost.

The commonwealth offers $500,000 for start-up expenses. The grant will cover technology upgrades, custom-designed learning modules, and cultivation of an environmental learning lab. Every town has unique teaching opportunities. Our school’s place-based learning will take advantage of Warwick’s small town culture, state and town forests, and its broadband system, which is now nine years old. Warwick Broadband will enable our children to learn in a global classroom led by teachers in Alaska, or shared with children in India.

The Warwick Education Committee introduced its public charter school conversion plan to the School Committee on Aug. 8. A converted public charter school has more autonomy than a typical public school. A Board of Trustees interfaces with the town and the district. The financial relationship with the district will be governed by a Memorandum of Understanding. That document requires a majority ‘yes’ vote of the School Committee before the application proceeds to the state Department of Education.

The upside for the district is per pupil costs in Warwick will drop. A lot. The goal is to match the district-wide norm. Fiscal sustainability is a challenge, but the numbers show it is an achievable goal.

This conversion of a public school to a public charter school is a chance to design an innovative school that other small towns may replicate. Many rural educators, present and future, may be forced to evolve their school into a place-based and blended learning model such as this, or something similar, if they are to keep a school alive in their community. We hope Warwick will offer some valuable lessons learned.

Warwick’s children have been educated in our community for over 250 years. The Selectboard is firmly committed to seeing that tradition continue, and welcomes the chance to develop a model that others may emulate.

Doc Pruyne chairs the Warwick Selectboard.


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