The Salem News
---- — Editor’s note: Pioneer Charter School of Science has requested state permission to open another charter school in Saugus that would accept students from Salem, Peabody, Danvers, Lynn and Saugus. If approved, the school would open in September 2013.
The 2010 state education reform law raised the cap on charter public schools to encourage expansion of high-quality charters in low-performing school districts. A proposal currently before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would allow Pioneer Charter School of Science to replicate its successful model to serve families in Salem, Danvers, Lynn, Peabody and Saugus.
PCSS was founded in 2007 with a mission “to prepare educationally under-resourced students for today’s competitive world.” It currently serves 360 students in grades seven through 12, most of them from Everett, Revere and Chelsea.
PCSS has lived up to its mission, consistently outperforming both statewide averages and district averages on MCAS exams. In 2012, PCSS ranked among the top 10 schools in the entire state on several MCAS measurements designed to gauge academic progress. In addition, 94 percent of PCSS 10th-graders scored proficient or advanced in science, 92 percent in English and 88 percent in math — besting district and statewide averages.
Last year, the commonwealth named PCSS a “commendation school” for narrowing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. It’s no wonder that Boston Magazine placed the school in its “top of the class” category.
Many PCSS-Everett students come from underprivileged backgrounds. More than half are African-American or Hispanic, about 50 percent come from families whose first language is not English, and around 9 percent have special needs. Many of our students — who are now among the best in Massachusetts — came to PCSS with subpar MCAS scores.
The school helps students develop the academic and social skills necessary to become successful professionals and exemplary members of their communities. PCSS prepares students for success in college and their careers with a rigorous academic curriculum emphasizing math, science and analytical thinking, balanced by a strong foundation in the humanities and a character education program.
The school has a longer school year, extended days (7:30 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.), tutoring until 4:30, homework makeup sessions until 5:30 and “voluntary” Saturday classes for students who need extra help. Students must pass five math and five science classes to graduate, more than the state requires. Students must also complete 40 hours of community service.
PCSS employs data-informed decision-making, assessing student performance in all core subjects at least eight times throughout the school year to identify and address academic weaknesses.
To help students balance their course work with extracurricular activities, the school offers many clubs, events, activities and sports. All-school activities include a science fair with judges from the community and local colleges such as MIT and Boston College.
PCSS graduated its first class last summer; 34 seniors received more than $3.2 million in scholarships and will attend top schools, including Columbia, Brandeis University and Boston College.
Those who oppose replicating PCSS’ success will undoubtedly raise issues around finances and demographics.
First, the financial impact of charters on district schools is grossly overstated. Parents who choose to enroll their children in charter schools should not be criticized for triggering the demise of public education. Since districts no longer educate a student who enrolls in a charter, the money they would have spent on the child follows him or her to the charter. The state then provides additional local aid to districts to reimburse them. Districts get more than two years of money back over a six-year period. They are reimbursed for every penny the first year, then 25 percent in each of the next five years.
Second, PCSS will be a public school, open to all students. Charter enrollment is determined by blind lottery. PCSS-Everett demographics are similar to the districts we draw students from, and we will engage in a public information campaign to ensure that students from all backgrounds have a chance to enter the lottery.
The PCSS proposal has made it to the final round of the commonwealth’s charter school selection process. Early next year, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education will make recommendations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which will vote on the applications in late February.
Charter public schools have proven their effectiveness at educating underprivileged students, and few charters have stronger records of success than Pioneer Charter School of Science. More families deserve access to this kind of educational opportunity.
PCSS enjoys a good working relationship with officials in Everett, Chelsea and Revere, and we hope to collaborate closely with North Shore educators to improve public education for all area children.
Barish Icin is executive director of Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett.