EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 15, 2014

State denies STEAM Studio charter proposal

ANDOVER — The controversial STEAM Studio charter school proposal has been denied a go-ahead from the state.

The technology-focused high school being spearheaded by School Committee member David Birnbach failed to earn the recommendation of Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, it was announced yesterday.

Without Chester’s recommendation, STEAM Studio’s hopes of opening in town this fall have been dashed.

Specific details on why the commissioner rejected the application were not released yesterday, pending notification of the school’s founders.

JC Considine, DESE spokesman, said the STEAM Studio team will be receiving feedback on its application from the department and is invited to reapply in the future.

Generally speaking, “not receiving a favorable recommendation speaks to a founding group not having met all the criteria on the charter application,” Considine said.

“You have to demonstrate how you’ll be academically successful, start and sustain a faithful organization, how you’re going to be faithful to your charter,” he said.

Birnbach, in an email last night, thanked the state Department of Education for its consideration as well as “parents and students throughout the Merrimack Valley for their interest.”

“(We) are inspired by the support we have received locally and nationally,” he said. “In the next few months, we will update the community about our plans going forward.”

Yesterday’s news followed a lengthy process for STEAM Studio that began last summer with the announcement of plans for the school and included informational sessions and a public hearing by the state.

The proposal encountered considerable opposition from the outset, including from the Andover School Committee, which suggested it would result in serious financial implications for the local school district.

STEAM Studio was built around a model of STEM education — with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, plus an added concentration on digital arts and design. The school was to be phased in over four years with students in grades nine through 12. It was expected to eventually enroll a maximum of 450 students, the majority anticipated from Andover.

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