WESTIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – On Monday, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to approve three new charter schools in Massachusetts, including the Hampden Charter School of Science-West, which will initially serve students in grades 6th through 9th from Agawam, Holyoke, Westfield and West Springfield.
Currently, HCSS-West has a school that is located in Chicopee, and serves Chicopee, Ludlow, Springfield and West Springfield. The other schools that were approved will be located in Plymouth and Sturbridge.
HCSS-West, which will open in 2018, will initially serve 252 students in grades 6th through 9th, and grow to serve 588 students in grades 6th through 12th. Like the existing HCSS, which was founded in 2009, the new school will have a math and science focus.
The press release sent out by BESE said HCSS-West would be located in Westfield, but that has not been decided. According to Hampden Charter School of Science Director Tarkan Topcuoglu, the location has not yet been finalized.
“This is not clear yet, we are still looking for options in one of the districts of West Springfield, Westfield, Agawam and Holyoke. The plan is to open in 2018 with 252 students, and expand to 588,” Topcuoglu said. He also said that they are evaluating whether to build or lease a building for the new school.
Topcuoglu said he was happy that the Board acknowledged their success by voting to allow the new school, “which creates more opportunities for the parents in those districts,” he said, adding that the school has a strong team, and is looking forward to starting another success story.
According to Jacqueline Reis, a spokesperson for BESE, the report that the school would be located in Westfield was based on the initial request for the expansion.
“Earlier in the charter school application process, the applicant group for Hampden Charter School of Science – West told us that they hoped to locate in Westfield. More recently, they told us that they are exploring a few different potential facilities within their charter region. The important thing from our perspective is that the school be in the specified region (Agawam, Holyoke, Westfield and West Springfield),” Reis said.
The stated mission for HCSS is to provide a college preparatory-focused education to the youth of every race and ethnic group in a safe, academically challenging, and caring educational environment.
“Our promise is to sustain small school size, provide extended math and science curriculum, individualized attention, college guidance, university outreach programs, and to encourage student-teacher-parent partnership. Our mission will empower our students with the support necessary to reach their highest intellectual, emotional, social and physical potentials building on the inherent promise to aid students’ preparation for college.”
Topcuoglu said that 96% of HCSS graduates are in college.
Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said that he was aware of the application, and that it was going to be approved at the meeting on Monday. The vote by the Board was not unanimous, but 5-3-1 in favor of the new school.
WPS School Committee Vice Chair Cynthia Sullivan also said that the School Committee knew about the application. Sullivan said the application was in process before the Question 2 no vote in November, which retained the previous cap on the number of new charter schools in Massachusetts, but still allows for new schools.
Sullivan attended a public hearing on the HCSS-West application at Westfield State University earlier this winter, and expressed her opposition to the school, which ultimately hopes to draw 150 students from each town in its service area.
“I just wish the state and the federal government would put their resources into public education, because that’s where the majority of our students are, in the public schools. It fragments the resources and financial stability of our public schools, and that’s not helpful,” Sullivan said.
Mayor Brian P. Sullivan said he has not heard that the school will be located in Westfield. His concerns are also around the financial ramifications, and how it will affect the students in Westfield. According to the HCSS website at hampdencharter.org, charter schools are public schools.
Charters are founded by parents and community leaders who believe there are educational needs that are not being met by district schools. They operate independent of local school districts and local government and are overseen by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).
Charter public schools are public schools open to everyone, free of charge. They cannot and do not select their students. If there are more students than available seats, they hold public lotteries to determine who will attend.
Charter public schools are located mostly in urban areas and enroll traditionally “underserved” populations. Statewide, 50 percent of students enrolled in charter public schools are students of color, compared to 23 percent statewide; 46 percent of students in charter public schools are enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program compared with 31 percent statewide. Compared to host districts, charters serve a far higher percentage of African American and Hispanic children, an equivalent percentage of low-income students, and lower percentages of special needs students and English-language-learners.
Charters are funded by allocating a portion of education spending from districts to charters. The amount of money that charters receive reflects the amount of money districts spend on each student. Every time there is an increase in the amount of money that is allocated to charters – whether it be because a new charter opens or because there is an increase in district spending – those dollars are reimbursed by the state for six years at a rate of 100% the first year and 25% for the next five years.
“There is a potential for some students to leave our district and attend the charter school. Our hope is to keep as many Westfield students in our schools as possible,” Czaporowski said. He also said WPS is looking at ways to offer more opportunities for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in the schools.
“Already, we have one of the best science fairs in the state at Westfield High School. We’ve introduced robotics to both high schools and middle schools. Moving forward, we’re going to increase opportunities for our kids,” Czaporowski said. He called STEM an “up and coming area,” pointing to the new Aviation Maintenance Technology program at Westfield Technical Academy, which he said is all about science, engineering and math.