This letter is in response to the STEAM Studio Charter School proposed for Andover. Like many people, I support the charter school movement, and have done so since I worked in the Sacramento School District in the early 1990s, when the superintendent asked me to create a charter school for the district — a school that continues to thrive to this day. Today, I work with a group in New Orleans developing a proposal for a charter school for early childhood students. I like the idea of competition and innovation, and know that the best charter schools have helped public education improve.
So, though I support charter schools overall, I do not support the STEAM Studio Charter School for two reasons: First, I do not find the proposal particularly innovative or unique. In fact, course offerings would appear to duplicate much of what Andover High School and the Greater Lawrence Technical School now offer. For example, AHS already has science courses such as biotechnology, bioethics and engineering. Further, AHS offers many science courses not proposed by STEAM Studio, including oceanography/marine biology, animal behavior/zoology and astronomy. AHS has been committed to ensuring students acquire 21st century skills for many years, skills such as building understanding across and among core subjects, emphasizing deep understanding rather than shallow knowledge, and engaging students with the real world data, tools and experts they will encounter in college, on the job and in life. STEAM Studio lacks much of what a comprehensive high school provides its students, both in academics and in after-school clubs and athletics. I have to wonder: Did the STEAM Studio folks look at AHS’ core mission and course catalogue?
Second, the financial toll on the Andover Public Schools budget would be significant. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website states: “Charter schools are funded by tuition charges assessed against the school districts where the students reside.” Tuition could be as high as $10,000 per student. This could render a serious financial blow to APS, because even if the student population at the high school were reduced, the overall cost of running the school does not decrease that much. There might be some reduction in class size, but likely not enough to reduce the teaching staff, because even if a class goes from 30 to 25 students, you still need a teacher for that class. The school still needs administrators, secretaries, custodians, guidance counselors, nurses and cafeteria workers. So, the result could be a lot less money to operate the same plant.
Claudia L. Bach, Ed.D.
Dr. Claudia Bach is a former superintendent of the Andover Public Schools.