February 29, 2012

Massachusetts Board of Education approves 4 new charter schools, including a SABIS school in Lowell

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved four new charter schools yesterday. These school will be located in Lowell, Holyoke, Boston and Springfield.

Among the four new schools approved is a SABIS charter school that will open in Lowell, Massachusetts, in fall 2013. The Lowell Collegiate Charter School will start with 540 students in grades K-5 and expand by one grade level each year until it serves grades K-12 with approximately 1,200 students.

The three other approved charter schools are the Baystate Academy Charter School in Springfield, the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Holyoke, and the Dudley Street Neighborhood School in Boston. The Springfield and Lowell schools are slated to open their doors in the fall of 2013. The Boston and Holyoke schools are scheduled to open this fall. The four schools collectively are projected to serve more than 2,500 students.

Sixteen charter schools were approved last year after the Patrick administration raised the cap on the schools.

"We are thrilled that the State board has approved the creation of a high quality college preparatory option for the children of Lowell," said William Merrill, president of Lowell Collegiate board of trustees. "Our school will offer a longer school day, students will wear uniforms and will be held to high expectations. An emphasis on college will begin in kindergarten."

The school's board and SABIS are actively searching for a suitable facility. A series of parent informational meetings will be held in different locations around the city over the next several months to share information with residents.

The student enrollment period will begin later this fall and conclude with a public lottery in March 2013. Enrollment priority will be given to Lowell residents. Seats still available after the initial enrollment round will be made available to students from other districts.

"SABIS is excited about the opportunity to establish a college preparatory school in the great city of Lowell," said Jose Afonso, SABIS's Director of US Business Development. "This school will offer a rigorous curriculum that has been successful in closing achievement gaps.'"

For more information about the SABIS program, please visit www.sabis.net

February 16, 2012

Boston Globe editorial endorses approval of two SABIS charter schools in Massachusetts

EDITORIAL: Proving themselves by performing
FEBRUARY 16, 2012

FOUR YEARS ago, state and local education officials blocked the opening of a for-profit SABIS Educational System charter school in Brockton. Will SABIS meet the same fate this month when it tries to bring its proven educational model to Lowell or expand its presence in Springfield?

SABIS has earned the right to expand in Massachusetts. While the for-profit business model may offend some local sensibilities, SABIS students in Holyoke and Springfield consistently outperform peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds in their home districts. More importantly, SABIS is closing the achievement gap between its mostly minority student body and white counterparts in the suburbs. In Springfield, for example, 88 percent of SABIS 10th graders scored advanced or proficient on the 2011 MCAS math exam, compared to a statewide average of 77 percent. SABIS is also coming on strong in Holyoke, where its students placed in the top 25 percent of schools statewide based on the percentage of Hispanic students who scored proficient or advanced in math in grades 7 and 8.

Charter schools, whether run by nonprofit or for-profit organizations, receive the same funding through the state’s per capita formula. If SABIS - the only for-profit charter school operator in the state - were trying to cut corners for business purposes, it would show up in the data on student performance. Instead, its students excel. And waiting lists for the SABIS schools grow along with the schools’ reputations.

In 2008, an excellent SABIS proposal in Brockton was beaten back by powerful local politicians who didn’t relish competing with charter schools for students and resources. Similar efforts are now underway to block SABIS from opening its K-12 Collegiate Charter School in Lowell. There appears to be less resistance in Springfield, where the Springfield Technical Community College seeks to form a partnership with the proposed new middle/high school.

Education commissioner Mitchell Chester is expected to make his charter school recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by the end of the week. If he puts the interests of urban students above local school board politics, the SABIS schools should rank high on that list.  (Boston Globe)

February 11, 2012

A tale of two charter schools: International Academy of Flint

International Academy of Flint - Photo by
NOTE: This story explores a day inside charter school International Academy of Flint and is part of a larger series on charter and traditional school performance in Genesee County. International Academy is ranked by the state as the top-performing charter school in the county. Check back soon for a profile of Academy of Flint, which ranks as the lowest-performing charter school.

GENESEE COUNTY, Michigan — In a second-floor classroom on the south side of Flint, a group of fourth graders — most wearing maroon-colored polo shirts — stand at attention facing the American flag, reciting the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance in unison.

They've filled out their daily diaries and heard the morning announcements. Teacher Angie Cox already got after a few for having a shirt untucked.

The pledge ends and the students remain standing. More words — set to a similar sharp and punctuated cadence — come through the public address system and the students join in.

"We are students at the International Academy of Flint, we can make a difference ..."

It's the beginning of another day in what the state's education department calls the highest-performing charter school in Genesee County.

"I think there's a lot of things going for us," said Melissa Vincent, who serves the middle school grades as the academic quality coordinator (think principal but with more time focused on testing and curriculum).

The data supports Vincent's comment. The K-12 school landed as the top charter in the county on the Michigan Department of Education's top-to-bottom list last year, which ranks all schools in the state based on student proficiency, school achievement, academic growth and the socioeconomic gap in five subject areas plus high school graduation rates.

In that same ranking, it was the only Genesee County Charter to beat the average for the county's 123 public schools. It was also the only charter to top the state average.

In November, the state included International Academy on their list of 123 schools "beating the odds," by "outperforming schools with similar risk factors and demographic composition."

Also, the school's third though eighth graders outperformed both the county average and the Flint School District and was the top charter in the county in math and reading on the most recent results from state tests.

So what's the difference here?

Testing, said Vincent. A lot of it.

"We start testing regularly in first grade, then it just gets more intense as they get older," she said.

She points to a testing schedule for fourth graders this semester. There is some type of exam nearly every day in subjects like Spanish, writing, English, science, vocabulary, math and grammar.

A favorite room of hers to show off is the exam hall. Here, row after row of benches hold computers and monitors under special privacy shields, about 130 in all. The building gets daily use and teachers get immediate results.

If Vincent sees a certain student isn't doing well in a Science, she tells the teacher to focus on them. Or maybe a lot of students are missing questions about photosynthesis: time to spend some class time reviewing it.

"Because we're testing a lot more, we're able to see if the kids are mastering the concepts," Vincent said.

It's also designed to prepare students for the test-heavy environment they can expect in college, said school spokesman Art Wenzlaff.

"Treat them like they're going to be treated in college," he said, with an extra emphasis on the words "going to."

All International Academy students are required to produce a college acceptance letter to graduate. Walking through the school's hallways (the building once housed Flint's Lincoln Elementary), the signs of college prep culture are everywhere.

"We will go to college in 2024," reads a sign posted outside a kindergarten classroom.

In the 12th-grade hallway, colorful banners with names of colleges hang on the wall above students' lockers. It marks where the student has been accepted.

The typical criticisms of charter schools — they serve few special education students, they don't provide transportation, they save money by not serving high school grades — don't apply at International. Of the district's roughly 1,200 students, nearly one in ten have special needs, according to the state's education department. And the school contracts with Mass Transportation Authority for student transportation.

There is another quirk to International Academy, one that likely plays a part in their robust test scores.

All new students take a test before setting a foot in a classroom.

"We'll make a grade level placement based on where they test," Vincent said.

It isn't unusual for students to be placed a few grades below where they were in their last school. At the beginning of each year, typically 15-20 percent of new students test below the grade they expected to be in, she added.

School officials say being in a lower grade doesn't have the same stigma as in other schools because so many students are subject to it.

Don't agree with the placement? Charter schools are about giving parents choices. They are welcome chose differently. (Source: MLive)

February 7, 2012

SABIS' International Academy of Saginaw Named Academic State Champion for 4th Grade Math

The International Academy of Saginaw, a SABIS school, was one of six charter schools with more than 40% economically disadvantaged students to achieve 100% at or above proficiency on the state’s 4th grade math Michigan Educational Assessment Program test.

By Nancy Derringer/Bridge Magazine
At the International Academy of Saginaw, math is taught through a proprietary curriculum of the school’s management company, SABIS. Called “Teach-Practice-Check,” it’s “really just good teaching,” said Justin Doughty, director. Material is taught, practiced as a group, practiced individually and checked for mastery.

Advanced students are christened “prefects” and enlisted to help slower peers. Doughty said it’s a way to keep faster learners from being bored, and makes sure everybody stays abreast of the lesson.

Whatever it’s called, the technique seems to be working — International Academy of Saginaw was one of six charter schools in its socioeconomic category to reach 100 percent at or above proficiency on the state’s Michigan Educational Assessment Program test of 4th grade math skills. The six were schools where more than 40 percent of students qualify for free lunches, a generally accepted threshold of economic disadvantage. The rest are Benton Harbor Charter School in Benton Harbor; Weston Preparatory Academy in Detroit; Pansophia Academy, Coldwater; West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science in Grand Rapids; and AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School in Southfield. (Read more in Bridge Michigan)

February 4, 2012

SABIS' International Academy of Flint shows charter schools can beat the odds

GENESEE COUNTY, Michigan — Genesee County has its share of low-performing charters. Then there is the other end of the spectrum.

The International Academy of Flint is the best performing charter school in the county and the only one doing better than the average traditional public school on the state education department's top-to-bottom list. [It is also a school that is Beating the Odds, according to the Michigan Department of Education.)

International Academy officials point to a rigid curriculum, weekly testing and placing students based on skill level as reasons they are pulling ahead.

"We place a child (in a grade) in which they test. ... If they think they're coming into seventh grade with us, that may or may not be the case," said school spokesman Art Wenzlaff.

Also, all International Academy students need to show a college letter of acceptance to graduate from high school. The college-bound culture starts as early as kindergarten.

Flint School District Superintendent Linda Thompson questioned the point of allowing more charters if they aren't consistently  and greatly outperforming districts like hers.  (Read full story here)

February 2, 2012

SABIS School in Phoenix gets visit from the Arizona Cardinals

Safeway and SRP have teamed up with the Arizona Cardinals football team to promote reading with “The Milk and Cookies Program”.

A local school is selected to have students participate. On November 22, 2011 SABIS International School of The South Mountain Village was chosen for this event. A group of 50 second graders who were chosen by a lottery got to meet the Cardinals mascot, Big Red , who danced with the students and got them excited about reading.

Following Big Red the students were read to by player Andre Roberts #12, wide receiver of the Cardinals . After reading some of the kids’ favorite books he answered questions and joined them for milk and cookies supplied by Safeway stores. Thank you to Safeway, SRP and the Arizona Cardinals for making this a special day for our students. (Source: South Mountain Villager)

Big Red
Andre Roberts reading to SABIS students