BV Prep charter is renewed

BV Prep charter is renewed

This online story updates the cost of charter school tuitions for Cumberland this upcoming year to $2.3 million.

CUMBERLAND - All set for another five years is the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy after leaders there saw their charter renewed by the Rhode Island Board of Eduction last week.

The five-year extension, the maximum time permitted by state education regulations, was offered to all four of the charter schools up for renewal, including the Segue Institute in Central Falls that saw poor standardized testing results.

BV Prep opened in 2009 with just a kindergarten class, but now has grown to two elementary schools and one middle school last year serving 770 students in grades kindergarten to 3 and grades 5 to 7.

In recommending the charter renewal, Commissioner Deborah Gist said BVP, which serves Cumberland, Lincoln, Central Falls and Pawtucket, "is outperforming its sending districts and demographically similar schools."

Its two elementary schools received a "commended" rating this summer and the middle school was named a "leading" school based on academics and other measurements.

The school system was noted for its "internal systems and structures to measurably improve achievement of its students," and its ability to "engage the community and provide a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment."

Gist did cite the charter school's "mixed fiscal health," based on a U.S. Department of Education composite score for nonprofit and propriety organizations, but she noted its recent "unqualified" audit and its "adherence to accounting principles and soundness of significant estimates made by management."

Commenting on the charter renewal, Mayor Daniel McKee, school founder and chairman of the board of directors, repeated his assertion that there's a direct relationship between the charter school's start in 2009 and improving Cumberland district school scores since that time.

He suggests that the extra 400 hours a year of schoolwork for BVP students lends a distinct advantage that the sending districts, including Cumberland, must begin to work out with unionized teachers.

"Let's add more time," he said.

"It is really now time to throw away the old playbook and embrace what's happening."

BV Prep's renewal application included a new configuration for its system that will increase the eventual number of elementary and middle schools to three each but not the number of projected students overall.

Beginning this fall with the addition of 4th- and 8th- grades, the elementary and middle schools will be filled with 1,000 students in grades kindergarten to 8.

The high school opens in the fall of 2014 when this year's 8th-graders become the first freshman class. A high school grade will be added each year.

A third elementary school is planned for 2015 and a third middle school for 2017.

The total target student population for BVP's seven eventual schools in the Blackstone Valley is 2,000.

Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger notes that even with the added schools, "the total enrollment does not change, so there will be no revision in any estimated costs to sending districts. The change will allow BV Prep to serve the same number of students while keeping the schools relatively small."

School budgets for the four sending communities must stretch further and further annually to cover the tuition costs of students who survive the BV Prep lottery.

Cumberland's Supt. Phil Thornton budgeted $2.3 million for charter school tuition this upcoming school year and anticipates the town's obligation to BVP will top $3 million in coming years.

Word of the renewal came at the same time as a $100,000 grant award from Next Generation Learning Challenges that will be used to develop "blended learning" techniques that mix traditional teaching with technology to better serve students.

An advisory committee working on the design of the new BVP High School will use the grant "to partner with other education leaders across the state and the nation to learn new and better ways to leverage technology to prepare each and every one of our scholars for top colleges and careers," said school designer Jonathan Santos Silva in a statement.