The North Shore is getting a new public charter school, following a vote from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this week.
The board gave final approval on a 6-4 vote for Pioneer Charter School of Science, which is based in Everett, to open a new school in Saugus that will serve students in grades 7-12 from Peabody, Lynn, Salem, Danvers and Saugus.
The curriculum will be focused on math and science and enroll a maximum of 360 students. PCSS plans to accept only 180 applications for grades 7-9, however, for when the charter opens in September.
Higher grades will be accepted later and school officials expect to reach full capacity by 2016.
“We want to thank the department, the commissioner and the board for their faith in our ability to bring our successful model to more families in communities north of Boston,” said PCSS Executive Director Barish Icin.
“We are looking forward to developing a collegial relationship with our host districts to improve educational opportunities for all public school children in those communities,” said Icin.
Icin told the Salem News that Peabody and Danvers were target communities because they don't have a charter school and even though Salem does have one, it could use another high quality charter.
He also said a possible location in Peabody was considered in the event locating the school in Saugus doesn't pan out.
PCSS II now embarks on an "aggressive recruitment drive" for students, according to school officials, which will include mailings to families in each community, advertising in local newspapers and providing information in public locations. Enrollment forms are also available on the school’s website.
A public lottery for seats will then be held March 14. As a public charter school, admission is open to all children and is by random lottery; however, the state doesn't require charters to provide the same level of services in some areas, such as special education, as traditional public schools.
That's one of several points of criticism local school officials and teachers take with charter schools. The most contentious is often the funding formula.
Under the current formula, the state will reimburse each local district 100 percent of any education funds that follow students who transfer to the charter school. Over the next five years, that rate falls to just 25 percent.
PCSS argues that districts are actually receiving "double their money back" over those six years, as the funds continue even after the students have transferred.
PCSS I opened in Everett in 2007 and graduated its first class (34 students) last summer. Critics of the charter school proposal pointed to that number, in fact, because the school started out with nearly double the students.
The school, meanwhile, points to high MCAS scores and grads going on to attend top colleges, such as Columbia, Brandeis and Boston College.
Another point of contention from teacher unions was whether the Turkish-run school was in fact linked to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is an exile from Turkey living in the United States.
School officials continue to deny there is any connection between PCSS and a nationwide effort to allegedly open Turkish-run charters as a way to graduate thousands of nationalist sympathizers.
PCSS was one of several schools recommended for approval this year by Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester.
"We have many outstanding charter schools in Massachusetts, and I support the continued establishment and growth of quality charter schools that set high expectations, demonstrate results, and prepare all students for success in college, career and life," said Chester.
"I believe the five new charter schools that I am recommending are well positioned to become academically successful and viable organizations that will close proficiency gaps and equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed," he said.