Ten middle-school age students who attended the Gloucester Community Arts Charter school during the last school year have enrolled instead at O’Maley Middle School for the 2012-2013 school year, school officials say.
But the charter school’s executive director says the exiting middle schoolers are the only students leaving GCACS, and he stands by his expanded school’s projection for an enrollment of more than 200 when school begins four weeks from today.
O’Maley Principal Debra Lucey confirmed Friday that 10 students from the charter have enrolled in grades 6 through 8 at the middle school for the coming year. She said she believes those students are coming back to O’Maley because the school’s reputation has changed and the charter school wasn’t meeting their needs.
“(They) just thought the charter wasn’t challenging academically as they wanted and wanted to be better prepared for high school,” Lucey said.
The Gloucester Public School District, in fact, is seeing other school-choice gains at O’Maley. Lucey said that an overall 18 students — the 10 from the charters and eight from other private and public schools — have enrolled for the new year.
Also, O’Maley is opening as a state-designated Innovation School, with a focus on project-based learning. Lucey said she’d like to think the school’s focus on teaching skills through projects, an innovation model, and its intervention practices have drawn students back to the middle school.
“We’ve made some strong goals on achievement,” Lucey said.
While the 10 middle schoolers have left the charter school for O’Maley, however, GCACS Executive Director Tony Blackman said Friday he believes they are the only ones that have done so.
The charter school projected a pre-enrollment of 212 students in its 2011-2012 annual report filed this week with the state’s Department of Education. That, said Blackman, is based on the number of names selected in the school’s lotteries before March 1, when the state asks for the pre-enrollment number.
The true enrollment figure, Blackman said, isn’t clear until students show up on the first day, and Blackman conceded that the school’s lower-than-expected enrollment last fall came as a surprise.
The charter had a pre-enrollment of around 190 students, but just 137 walked in the door, and the school, which is budgeted through the state based on per-pupil costs, took a 30 percent budget cut because of that. The first year the school opened, 90 students had signed up, but 26 pulled out before it even opened in late September 2010 after Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, amid a series of opening delays and construction issues, questioned whether the school was still “viable.”
The middle-school departures have come amid a tumultuous summer for Gloucester’s charter school, and with school starting Sept. 4, Blackman also doesn’t have a contract as the school’s executive director.
The Board of Trustees canceled a planned negotiating session on Saturday and plans to take it up at the next regularly scheduled meeting, said Chairman James Caviston. The trustees had also canceled a meeting pegged for this past Wednesday, with Caviston saying the session wasn’t needed because the board does not have to formally approve the school’s annual report. That report was filed by Blackman, who continues to work under his previous agreement that expired June 30.
Meanwhile, with 10 former charter students headed for O’Maley, the Gloucester Public Schools have not received any requests to transfer students records from the city elementary schools to the charter school since the end of the last school year, said Tom Markham, district financial officer. Lucey said she also has not seen any requests for records transfers to the charter at the middle school level, either.
Markham acknowledged, however, that such requests could still be forthcoming and that those numbers remain fluid.
When a student leaves the district, the school to which he or she is going to needs to request that student’s records as step one in any transfer, said Markham. Parents also need to withdraw their students from the previous school, he noted. But those transfers can happen throughout the year, and schools send in their enrollment to the state on Oct. 1.
“The system isn’t caught up with reality,” Markham said.
“At the moment that’s important for all of us in education,” Blackman said. “We have to know which students are coming and get access to their files to best prepare for student support.”
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenGDT