2012-02-20 / Front Page

Forum eyes charter school idea

Proposal for Harpswell up for discussion Wednesday
BY DARREN FISHELL Times Record Staff

HARPSWELL — Advocates for founding a charter school in Harpswell hope that a public forum Wednesday will kick off thoughtful discussion — and criticism — of the proposal.

“We need support but also (need) to hear concerns,” said Scott Ruppert, who is a member of the Harpswell Charter School Initiative. “Airing that out and getting public discussion is essential right now.”

Last year, a new state law made Maine the 41st state in the nation to allow the formation of charter schools, which combine elements of a private and public school.

In line with that law, charter schools would follow state and federal education standards and receive public funds, but the curriculum and hiring practices could be more flexible than public schools.

Ruppert said the Harpswell idea would involve curriculum on maritime subjects specific to Harpswell’s history and landscape.

Ruppert said that Harpswell Anchor publisher Robert Anderson first approached him about the idea earlier this year.

“He described this to me and said the focus would have to be on what Harpswell is: linked to the ocean and waterfront resources and marine sciences,” Ruppert said.

Ruppert said those elements would allow for subjects like math to be taught and applied in the context of building a boat, for example.

“We want to have an alternative education delivery method, like an expeditionary model or Outward Bound model that is a degree or two off from traditional high school or public school,” Ruppert said.

Since Anderson first approached him with the idea, it has already begun to grow, Ruppert said.

“You see it start to mushroom and it’s exciting,” Ruppert said.

At the group’s last meeting, on Feb. 1, Ruppert said approximately 20 people participated in discussion about the proposal, which now has a website at harpswellcharterschool.wordpress.com.

While the proposal is still in its early stages, Ruppert said the group would like to see such a charter school established in Harpswell by the fall of 2013.

Ruppert said he anticipates challenges ahead, but that he has been drawn to what he said is a “ big idea.”

“The idea is so big that even for a bigger town to embark on a journey like this would be huge,” Ruppert said.

Ruppert said he expects one of the largest challenges to be coordination and collaboration with School Administrative District 75, which currently includes Harpswell.

For every student who would attend a charter school in Harpswell instead of attending SAD 75, Ruppert said, that would leave less money for the Topsham- based school district, but he believes that the competition would ultimately be a good thing for students.

“Competition makes things better,” Ruppert said. “There has to be some kind of demonstrable change to make other schools better.”

Overall, Ruppert said the group envisions a collaborative relationship with SAD 75, which could ultimately expand the extracurricular options for students in the area.

“It could be a very nice partnership,” Ruppert said. “We would likely not be able to offer football or baseball or some other sports.”

To fill that gap, Ruppert said he could envision a partnership in which a student could attend a charter school in Harpswell while playing sports in SAD 75, or vice versa.

“We could have a sailing team or a crew club, which would bring people to our school as well,” Ruppert said.

For now, the ideas are still in the works. Ruppert said he hopes that Wednesday night’s forum, featuring speakers John D’Anieri and Joe Grady, who Ruppert said are wellversed in the operation of alternative schools, will generate more thoughts on the proposal.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Orr’s Island School House.

For more information, visit www.harpswellschoolinitiative.wordpress.com.

dfishell@timesrecord.com

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