January 11, 2012

Lowell Sun editorial urges state approval of new SABIS school in Lowell, Massachusetts

New charter school is good for Lowell

On Thursday, representatives from the Collegiate Charter School of Lowell (CCSL) will go before the state Board of Education in Malden to answer questions about its proposal for a new school.

The school's Founding Committee, comprising area business and educational executives, will be joined by directors from SABIS international, the learning group that will operate the K-5 charter.

The Department of Education must approve the CCSL's proposal, and will be scrutinizing every detail of its proposed organizational structure, mission, academic offerings, recruitment of teaching staff and financial resources. A final decision is expected in February. If all goes well, the CCSL will be eligible to open in September 2013 with 540 students.

The Sun believes the city of Lowell, home to 106,000 residents, needs more public-school choices for parents and their children. In affluent communities, the range of school choices -- both public and private -- is broad, giving families opportunities to decide what is best for their children. Shouldn't Lowell parents have a similar chance to decide what is best for their kids? Damn right they should.

The CCSL, coupled with the existing Lowell Community Charter Public School (K-6), would greatly expand the menu of untapped options. According to DOE guidelines, the city has the capacity to offer 2,500 seats annually to charter-school students, yet is under-served by 72 percent.

The CCSL proposal presents a significant opportunity for Lowell to improve the quality of education throughout the city's public school system. Its mission isn't to "steal" students from Lowell Public Schools as critics contend, but to enhance the academic development of students who desire a different learning environment.

SABIS International has a splendid track record of operating charters in other urban centers. Its goal is to see that every student attending its schools goes on to attend college. It has been highly successful in achieving those lofty marks in both Holyoke and Springfield, where the traditional public schools have struggled mightily. We like the attitude of excellence that SABIS sets; it's a great model for serious learning.

The state's charter-approval process, however, can be somewhat political -- even though politics, by law, has nothing to do with DOE's final decision. We've detected a state education bias against SABIS simply because it is a for-profit business organization. You would think a well-run, efficient outfit would be welcome, but DOE officials hate to give up control to any outside experts other than themselves. They should be more concerned with the results of students.

We hope this mindset changes for the sake of our children. The Community Charter School of Lowell deserves a chance to open its doors and breathe fresh life and vitality into the city's educational landscape.


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