Fusion Academy, which emphasizes individualized instruction for students, is resurrecting its bid to create a private school in Andover.

The Andover School Committee unanimously rejected Fusion's bid earlier this year, saying Fusion failed to provide documents requested by the district, among other concerns. The for-profit organization opened a learning center at 3 Dundee Park Drive just after Labor Day, however, and will make another attempt to start a full-fledged academy in the not-too-distant future, according to Michelle Houlihan, head of school.

"We are finalizing our application," she said.

Fusion, which has 58 campuses across the United States, bills itself as "a revolutionary way to school." Rather than having 20 to 30 students in a classroom, Fusion uses a model of one teacher per student, Houlihan said.

"It's very customized," she said.

Why does the organization use the name Fusion?

Fusion schools recognize that every student has a "different path" to learning, Houlihan said. The schools seek to bring about a fusion of all those journeys, she said.

The Fusion Learning Center in Andover offers tutoring, mentoring and homework help to students from several communities in the area, including Andover, North Andover, Boxford, Georgetown and Newburyport, according to Houlihan.

The students receive help in a variety of subjects, she said. One student is tackling advanced placement physics, she said.

A learning center does not need School Committee approval to operate, which is why Fusion was able to open the center this year, Houlihan said.

If the School Committee grants Fusion the right to operate an academy, it will be located in the same place as the learning center, Houlihan said. A visitor will not find traditional classrooms there. Instead, there are much smaller rooms, where teacher and student sit at a table and work together on the subject at hand.

The building also has a music studio, an art room and a science lab. Plans are in the works to bring in the body of a baby shark for dissection, Houlihan said.

Fusion envisions a school of 75 to 100 students in grades six through 12, she said. The academy would not receive any state or federal assistance, so tuition would pay for the operation.

Students in the learning center now operating are charged $250 per month to attend the Homework Café Club. Tutoring costs $130 per session.

Fusion opened its first academy in the San Diego area 30 years ago. It expanded to the East Coast seven years ago. A Fusion Academy was established in Newton in 2018. Another was started in Burlington last March, Houlihan said.

The academies in Newton and Burlington are both accredited high schools, she said.

In 30 years, Fusion has expanded from one academy in California to 58 across the country. Asked about this growth, Dan Morgan, director of market development for Fusion, said simply, "There's a need."

Students who "don't fit the traditional model" of schools need alternatives, he said.

Sandra Trach, assistant superintendent for Andover public schools, told the School Committee several months ago that Fusion did not provide the district with an anti-discrimination policy, handbooks, and data about teacher turnover, subject matter expertise and preparation time.

Trach also said Fusion's programs "fail to meet with the same thoroughness and efficiency of Andover public schools." Superintendent Sheldon Berman agreed with her assessment.

Houlihan said she is confident Fusion will be able to comply with the School Committee's expectations as the school makes a new attempt to move into Andover.

 

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