EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 2, 2013

Andover charter school plan advances

Wins go-ahead for formal application

ANDOVER — A charter school being pitched by a member of the School Committee has been given the go-ahead to apply for a full charter.

The proponents of STEAM Studio, led in part by School Committee member David Birnbach, now have until Oct. 25 to file a full application, making official their plans to establish a new education center focused on science, technology and the arts in Andover.

“The team is excited to go to the next step,” Birnbach said. “We’re focused now on completing the final application.”

The state is expected to issue its final decision next February, after a lengthy public hearing and vetting process.

One question still unanswered is where STEAM Studio will be sited. And that answer could take some time. JC Considine, spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the plan could actually gain state approval before the school has a home.

“Most of these groups won’t find an actual location until they receive a charter,” Considine said.

Birnbach said the group behind STEAM Studio is “looking at five locations,” but declined to identify them given ongoing negotiations. He did say existing buildings in Andover are being eyed.

“We hope to get more, to finalize the plans on the school building in the next couple months,” he said.

As for an ideal location for a charter school, Birnbach pointed to a model charter out in San Diego, Calif. — High Tech High — as one similar to the STEAM School vision. Built in 2000, the California-based school serves 570 students through grades 9 through 12, according to its website.

Once fully operational, STEAM Studio would serve a maximum of 450 students in grades 9 through 12.

Meanwhile, disagreement continues over whether Birnbach’s dual role as a School Committee member and charter school proponent creates a conflict of interest.

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