LAWRENCE — Phoenix Academy, the privately managed public school that has served the city's at-risk students since 2012, will be replaced in September by an independent charter school that will report to its own board of directors – not the city – following a vote by the state board of education Tuesday to issue a charter to the new school.
Besides allowing Phoenix Academy to convert to a charter school independent of the city, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed to allow the new school, to be called Phoenix Charter Lawrence, to accept at-risk students from Methuen and Haverhill as well as Lawrence.
Little else will change. Phoenix Charter Lawrence still will be operated by the Phoenix Charter Academy Network, the Boston nonprofit that has operated Phoenix Academy in Lawrence for six years.
Phoenix Charter Academy Network — which also operates charters in Chelsea and Springfield — serves youths who have dropped out of or been expelled from school, have struggled with truancy and chronic absenteeism in the past, are involved in the court system, are pregnant or parenting children of their own, or are recent immigrants.
Phoenix Charter Lawrence will continue operating as an alternative school in the Everett Mill building on Union Street and will be managed by most of the same staff that managed the school when it was part of the Lawrence school district, including its principal, Tamara Soraluz.
Soraluz did not return a phone call Tuesday.
The school also expects little change in its enrollment next year, when it will offer spaces to the students who are now freshmen, sophomores and juniors. It will have an enrollment of between 175 and 250 students.
The state education board voted unanimously to issue the charter to Phoenix Charter Lawrence after Jeff Wulfson, the acting commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education who serves as staff to the ed board, cited its record of success in Lawrence, Chelsea and Springfield. Before making the recommendation, Wulfson said he reviewed performances on MCAS tests by students at the three schools, as well as the schools' attendance, suspension, graduation and dropout rates.
“This is the only application for a new charter that I'm recommending for approval this year,” Wulfson told the board. “I think it's not an exaggeration to say that in the controversial world of charter schools in Massachusetts, Phoenix Academy and their network of schools stand out as a shining light that everyone can agree is doing great work with an underserved population.”
Phoenix Charter Lawrence will be the city's third charter school. The others are the Community Day and Lawrence Family Development charter schools.