WINDHAM — The state Board of Education has approved a hard-fought plan for a charter school in Windham that proposes a STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Windham Academy Public Charter School is still in the early planning stages, according to Sean Donahue of the Foundation for Student Achievement, the group that brought the plan to the state board twice before it was approved.
“We’ve had a lot of input from parents, and a lot of people are requesting an alternate education to what’s available in town,” Donahue explained. “What we’re planning to do is create a school that has a lot of parent involvement and that introduces children to STEM early.”
According to Donahue, a board of trustees is slated to be established within three months. That group will be tasked with making major decisions while the Foundation for Student Achievement steps away from logistical planning.
The board of trustees will work closely with parents.
“We want parents to have a say in how the school is governed,” Donahue said. “We’re hoping we can put together different committees, like a curriculum committee and a teacher selection committee.”
When the state board approved Windham Academy in December, it became the 28th charter school in the state, according to the board’s website. Currently, the closest ones to Windham are in neighboring Salem and Derry.
Salem’s Granite State Art Academy and The Birches Academy of Academics and Art welcomed their first students in 2014 and 2012, respectively. Next Charter School in Derry opened its doors in 2013.
“There’s a demand for these types of schools,” Donahue said. “There are waiting lists for all of the local charter schools around here.”
Enrollment at Windham Academy will be capped at 300 students from anywhere in the state, he said. Windham students will have preference and any additional spaces will be filled though a blind lottery.
To gauge initial interest in a STEM-based school for young students, the FSA distributed pre-enrollment forms in Windham. About 80 were returned, according to Donahue.
“We plan on opening it to K-4 the first year,” he said. “And adding on grades 5 through 8 in the years that follow.”
Donahue said conversations about facilities and staffing are pending the creation of a governing body.
Donahue, who works full-time for a medical device company, said he’s involved with Windham Academy because of the educational variety it can provide.
“I’m a big fan of educational choices,” he said. “We have fantastic public schools here in Windham, but they’re not necessarily the right fit for every student.”
Donahue said there’s a demand for workers in the STEM field, and Windham Academy will help students decide before high school if they may want to pursue a related job.
The specialized education will be funded by the state.
According to the New Hampshire Alliance for Public Charter Schools, when a child attends a charter school, the state portion of adequacy aid (about $3,600) is sent directly to the charter school.
Local taxpayer dollars remain in the district and do not forward to the charter school. Because New Hampshire charter schools do not receive local tax dollars, the state legislature provides charter schools with an additional $3,036 per pupil.
Charter schools function on five-year terms, meaning that the Foundation for Student Achievement would have to eventually renew the contract for Windham Academy with the state.
Before succeeding in December with the Board of Education, the FSA had its application denied twice.
Donahue said there is no set date for Windham Academy to open.