State report gives Charter School high marks
A recently released report detailing a state inspection team's tough scrutiny of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) documents strong findings in support of its charter renewal application, which goes before the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) later this month.
The charter school opened in West Tisbury in 1996 and was granted a five-year charter in 2001 by the DOE. Now in its tenth year, the school has 159 students in grades kindergarten through 12, representing all six Island towns.
Last August, the school applied for a second renewal of its charter for the years 2006 to 2011. As part of the renewal process, an inspection team from the DOE Charter School Office conducted an on-site review at the school from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, 2005.
MV Times file photo
The team conducted 20 classroom observations across content areas and interviewed 30 staff members, either individually or in focus groups. They also interviewed focus groups made up of school leaders, the Board of Trustees, parents and students.
Last week, the team released the final version of its inspection report, a 42-page document that is one of three components the DOE will consider in its decision on whether to approve the charter school's renewal application at its meeting on Feb. 28.
"I think the report encapsulated quite well the things that we think are important about the school," said Bob Moore, MVPCS principal. "It was a very fair assessment of the work we did over the past 5 to 10 years. I think in three days they came away with a good sense about who we are and how we do things."
In addition to the inspection team's report, the state board of education will consider a "Summary of Review" of all of the charter school's documentation and data over the course of the last five years from David Driscoll, Massachusetts education commissioner, who will recommend to the board whether to renew the charter school's application. The school's most recent financial audit completes the package.
Mr. Moore said he plans to attend the Feb. 28 meeting in Malden with Sam Berlow, president of the charter school's board of trustees. "It is our hope the board will take a vote during that particular meeting to approve the renewal of the charter," Mr. Moore said. If not, the board will vote on it in March.
After spending three days at the charter school last fall, the inspection team organized their findings in terms of four renewal questions: Is the academic program a success? Is the school a viable organization? Is the school faithful to the terms of its charter? If the school is renewed, what are its plans for the next five years?
In evaluating the charter school's academic program, the team noted that the students were "outperforming the state on most grade level tests" in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test results in English and language arts, math, science, and technology/engineering.
The team said they found the charter school's academic program to be in keeping with its mission by focusing on the "cultivation of intellectual growth and social growth for each student." In addition, the charter school's large number of support staff provides individualized instruction for all learners in the classroom, their report said.
In discussions with the faculty, teachers told the evaluation team they often work extra hours voluntarily, and feel they are supported by the administration in their efforts. One of the school's drawbacks, the teachers mentioned, is that its space limitations, compounded further by the lack of a cafeteria or library, make it difficult to find a place to work with individual students.
Another favorable finding the report highlighted is the charter school's high faculty retention rate, at 90 percent. The teachers said the school's environment "encourages growth and refinement of their teaching practices" through opportunities for professional development. However, they said, their biggest challenges in working at the school are insufficient compensation for the long hours they put in and the intensity of their work.
In evaluating whether the school is a viable organization, the team wrote, "...the mission of the school is vibrant as seen through all school practices and the academic program, and is carried into practice with the support of the entire school community at all levels, which actively supports the mission." As one example, community members serve as volunteer instructors, tutors, and mentors.
In considering the impact of finances on the school's viability, the report stated, "The most immediate challenge that faces the school is a potential financial loss due to changes in the funding formula..."
The reduction in facility contributions is a critical factor for the charter school, in that its building expenses are far higher than the state average because of its Island location, the report explained.
The second factor that threatens the school's financial viability is the change in the district cap on enrollment from 12 to 9 percent in the up-Island school district's budget for state education Chapter 70 funds. The charter school estimates the policy keeps out 10 to 12 students a year at a cost of $150,000 annually.
In addressing the third renewal question, whether the school is faithful to the terms of its charter, the evaluation team examined academic programs, financial practices, student and faculty retention goals, and other factors contributing to the success of the school in fulfilling its mission.
The team found that the school met many of its academic goals, improved on others, and developed plans to address areas in need of improvement. They reported that the school demonstrated "sound financial practices," and met or exceeded student enrollment and faculty retention goals. Overall school plans documented in the school's accountability plan and strategic plan support its mission and address important issues, the report said.
As for plans for the next five years, the team advised the charter school to raise some of its student achievement goals, "because the school's past performance shows that the standard has been consistently exceeded in recent years."
The entire report can be viewed here.