SALEM — It’s not likely Rachel Hunt will ever forget her 30th birthday, and not only because she went to lunch that day with her future husband.
Earlier that day in February 2003, the Massachusetts Board of Education approved the charter for Salem Academy Charter School, a new public school that, in one form or another, had been on Hunt’s mind since her college days at Wesleyan University.
Hunt seemed an unlikely founder of a charter school. Not only was she young, but she was known locally mostly for the two years she spent as a Spanish teacher at Collins Middle School. And although the charter school had supporters, it also had detractors, including members of the Salem School Committee, which oversees the district public schools.
In that somewhat hostile environment, Hunt founded an independent public school that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year after a decade of growth. It has expanded from two grades with 88 students to a grade 6-12 school with 372 students.
Hunt, head of school at Salem Academy and now the mother of two young children, hasn’t done too shabbily herself. This month, she won a seat on the Salem School Committee. In fact, she topped the ticket in her first run for elective office. It’s hard not to conclude that the success of the charter school had a lot to do with the success of her campaign.
During the election, a man approached Hunt after a school forum — a man she recalled as an archenemy of the charter school from a decade ago. Hunt jokingly asked if he had changed his mind after 10 years.
“I have,” he said, “and I want you to know that.”
Signs abound that Salem Academy Charter School has changed a lot of minds. Last year, for example, about 40 percent of fifth-grade students in the district schools applied for admission to the charter school.