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.
Yet, while some questioned the need for a charter high school in Andover, others in town argued STEAM Studio would fill a gap in STEM education that they say currently exists in town.
STEAM Studio was one of six proposals seeking state charters in the current cycle. Only two won Chester’s support — Argosy Collegiate Charter School in Fall River and Springfield Preparatory Charter School. They will now advance to the DESE board for final approval on Feb. 25.
Considine said both schools were initially denied charters on their first application attempts.
“These two, Argosy Collegiate and Springfield Preparatory, are actually good examples of those that were unsuccessful in the past (and) took the time to strengthen their application,” Considine said. “They listened to the feedback from the department, made their applications better and were successful in a subsequent application cycle.”
In addition to STEAM, the Academy for the Whole Child Charter School in Fitchburg, Fenix Charter School in Lynn and New Heights Charter School of Fall River did not received favorable recommendations from Chester.
In announcing his decision, Chester said in a release that the state holds charter schools to “a very high standard of excellence.”
“Massachusetts is known for having some of the finest, strongest performing charter schools anywhere in the nation,” he said. “The two new schools that I am recommending today have met our criteria for new applicants and are well positioned to open on time and succeed in delivering a high quality program of instruction to students.”
Chester yesterday also gave the go-ahead for the creation of the state’s second virtual school — TEC Connections Academy Online Virtual School, proposed by the Education Cooperative in Dedham. The school would serve up to 2,000 students statewide from kindergarten through grade 12. The recommendation comes with a list of conditions that Chester feels the board should impose.
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