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November 21, 2013

Crowd packs library for charter discussion

ANDOVER — It was a sharply divided crowd that testified on a proposed charter high school in Andover yesterday, with such a large turnout that the hearing was paused at one point to clear aisles for fire safety reasons.

About 30 people in a crowd of more than 150 at Memorial Hall Library addressed officials from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education who were in town to collect public comment and testimony on the STEAM Studio charter school.

More than half of those speaking against STEAM Studio were local school administrators and officials, including Andover Superintendent Marinel McGrath and School Committee members Barbara L'Italien and Paula Colby-Clements, as well as John Lavoie, superintendent and director of Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover; Stanley Limpert, chairman of the North Andover School Committee; Kevin Hutchinson, superintendent of North Andover Public Schools; and Joanne Benton, superintendent of Wilmington Public Schools.

For the first hour and 40 minutes, comments mostly alternated back and forth between supporters and opponents, with discussion coming mostly from opponents at the end due to a lack of further supporters.

One speaker — Hugh Smith, a senior at Andover High School who also fills administrative roles in the community — delivered polarized opinions from Andover High.

Andover High's School Council, made up of students, teachers, administrators and more, voted against the proposal, while the AHS student government supported it, he said. Smith counted himself among the supporters.

With the two governing bodies at Andover High taking opposing sides, Smith said the positions mirrored a greater issue in the community that was frustrating him.

"There are many opinions out there," Smith said. "One of the things that has been frustrating me about this whole issue has been that facts haven't been clearly set up by either side. I've seen statistics from either side that don't match up, and everything seems extremely polarized."

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