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Maine Charter School Overwhelmed with Applicants
08/20/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine's first two charter schools will begin operating this fall. And already, one of them has many more applicants than it does available spaces. Cornville Regional Charter School will have space for 60 students in Kindergarten through sixth grade when it officially opens in October. But as many as 95 families have expressed interest in enrolling their kids, forcing the school to hold a lottery the day after Labor Day.

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When families show up at the American Legion Hall in Skowhegan on Sept. 5, they'll be given numbers like G8 or B47. Then, at around 6:30, the flow of compressed air inside the hall's bingo machine will begin to swirl around all those little balls, and the drawing will determine who's in and who's out.

"I'm on the fence about going," says Jodi Mosher-Towle, who badly wants her twin boys to get into the fifth-grade class at Cornville Regional Charter School. She's just not sure she can bear to watch other kids' numbers get called out. "Well, they're going to call you if you get in or even if you don't. I'm trying to expect the worst and hope for the best," she says.

Towle is a teacher herself, a veteran of public school classrooms in Benton, Richmond and South Portland. She also taught at a private school in Denver, where she says she enjoyed more freedom in the classroom.

Towle and her husband moved back to Maine from Connecticut in June. But while living in southern New England, she says she began paying attention to the teaching, learning and personalized attention going on at charter schools nearby. She liked what she saw and was excited when she found out a charter would be opening near her new home in Smithfield.

"The hands-on aspect is missing in public schools now," she says. "My kids' memory for their celebration of learning night---from public school, in Connecticut, in third grade---was getting ready for the Connecticut Mastery Test. That was their only memory they had of third grade."

If Towle's kids get into Cornville Regional Charter School, they'll have a personalized learning plan that conforms to Maine's Common Core standards, but puts a big emphasis on helping kids become proficent through what's called place-based education. An example might be a science class that uses extensive time outdoors to master key concepts in areas such as biodiversity and evolution.

Justin Belanger is the executive director of Cornville Regional Charter. He says the school initially planned for an enrollment of just 45 kids when it first submitted its application to the state.

"I'm a little surprised," he says. "We're in the process of hiring staff, so parents don't even have an opportunity to talk to staff to see if their philosophy is in line with them yet. But what I attribute the interest to is people want the best for their kids."

And in the Cornville area, parents seem excited about suddenly having additional educational choices for their kids, after seeing their options dwindle in recent years. Over the past several years, regular public schools in Cornville, Smithfield and Mercer have all shut down due to consolidation.

Jacob Savage's son just completed the second grade in Skowhegan. Savage is happy to have the chance to enroll him in the third grade at Cornville Regional Charter. "We're hoping that the culture is a little more open," he says. "Just that that option is there. Just that the availablility for unorthodox is there."

Cornville Regional Charter School will open its doors in October.


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