Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


November 28, 2013

Charter school divide widens

Hearing on STEAM Studio packs library

A sharply divided crowd turned out last week to testify on a proposed charter high school in Andover that’s seeking a green light from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

More than 150 people — including local and area education leaders, parents and students — packed the second-floor hall at Memorial Hall Library for the chance to make their case on STEAM Studio charter school.

The forum is one of the steps in the state’s review of STEAM Studio’s application to create a school focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math for up to 450 students in grades 9 through 12. A decision will be announced in February.

More than half of those voicing opposition for STEAM Studio were school administrators and officials, including Andover Superintendent Marinel McGrath and School Committee members Barbara L’Italien and Paula Colby-Clements; John Lavoie, superintendent and director of Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover; Stanley Limpert, chairman of the North Andover School Committee; Kevin Hutchinson, superintendent of North Andover Public Schools; and Joanne Benton, superintendent of Wilmington Public Schools.

For the first hour and 40 minutes, comments mostly alternated between supporters and opponents, with discussion focused on opponents at the end due to a lack of further supporters.

One speaker — Hugh Smith, a senior at Andover High School who also fills administrative roles in the community — delivered polarized opinions from Andover High.

The School Council, made up of students, teachers, administrators and more, voted against the proposal, while the AHS student government supported it, he said. Smith counted himself among the supporters.

With the two governing bodies at Andover High taking opposing sides, Smith said the positions mirrored a greater issue in the community that was frustrating him.

“There are many opinions out there,” Smith said. “One of the things that has been frustrating me about this whole issue has been that facts haven’t been clearly set up by either side. I’ve seen statistics from either side that don’t match up, and everything seems extremely polarized.”

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