Peabody families may be able to enroll their students in a new North Shore charter school this fall if state education officials sign off on the proposal this week.
The Pioneer Charter School of Science, based in Everett, received a favorable recommendation from state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester earlier this month to open a new school in Saugus and that application now awaits a vote by the DESE board of directors on Feb. 26.
If the board gives final approval for the proposal, the new public charter school plans to open its doors in September.
PCSS had hoped to open two more schools North of Boston as well, but those applications were not recommended by Chester.
The North Shore PCSS would serve students in grades 7-12 from Saugus, Salem, Peabody, Danvers and Lynn with a curriculum rooted in math, science and analytical thinking skills.
Projected enrollment is 360 students.
“We are excited to be able expand our highly successful science and math-based educational model to more families in communities North of Boston,” said Barish Icin, Executive Director of PCSS, in a statement.
Icin said PCSS has high expectations for its students and provides them with the environment and tools to achieve.
“We believe that our students can match those who come from more affluent communities and our track record shows we have been successful,” he said.
PCSS boasts of higher than average MCAS scores by students along with higher graduation standards on math and science than required by the state.
And among other things, the school also runs on a 200-day academic calendar, offers extended hours and days, requires community service and focuses on college preparation.
Local officials, union opposed
As expected, the proposal for an outside charter school was not received favorably by local education officials and teachers, who argued for the DESE to reject the expansion plans from PCSS at a public hearing in December.
The longstanding arguments from public educators continue to revolve around funding for charters, student enrollments and demographics, a non-unionized teaching staff and different certification standards for teachers than at a regular public school.
While public charters are open to all students (admission is by random lottery) and held to strict standards of academic achievement and financial management by the DESE, the biggest issue still tends to be the funding.
State education aid (Chapter 70) is reallocated from public school districts to follow students who leave the district for a charter.
While districts are no longer educating the students, they do receive reimbursement for the pupils from the state for six years after the students transfer. The first year it's 100 percent, but then 25 percent for each of the next five years.
School districts -- already saddled with unfunded mandates and strapped for cash in many instances -- say the formula is far from a financial wash for them, arguing the loss in state aid for one student is disproportionate to the effect of that single student transferring out of the district.
Peabody, Salem and Lynn officials similarly opposed two other charter school proposals a few years ago and state education officials ultimately turned away plans by Road to Success Charter High School for a school in Salem to serve students from all three cities.
RTS applied again, removing Peabody from its plan, but again was rebuffed by the state for final approval. In the meantime, Salem has opened its own charter school run by the district and Salem Academy has been in operation since 2004.
A possible nationalist movement?
One other issue raised with PCSS is the possibility of a link to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen and an alleged plan to turn out thousands of Turkish sympathizers in the United States.
Gulen lives in Pennsylvania and more than 100 charter schools around the country run by Turkish-Americans are linked to him, reports the Globe and other sources. Gulen says education is a key principle of his movement, particularly opening hundreds of schools in North America, Europe and elsewhere.
PCSS has not been directly linked to the Gulen Movement in news reports nor do state education officials appear concerned with the issue, although blogs and other groups making such claims have linked the two. PCSS school officials, in fact, directly deny any connection to Gulen or the movement.
The Globe reports, however, that PCSS is run similarly to those schools linked to Gulen and has gone out of its way to hire Turkish immigrants as teachers and do business with Turkish-based companies.
News reports say Peabody High School Guidance Director Antonio Braganca raised that issue during the public hearing in December.
Braganca said many PCSS teachers come from Turkey and the school leadership appears to be influenced by the movement. PCSS administrators, again, strongly denied any link, saying they are not affiliated with Gulen.