In September 2018, Hampden Charter School of Science in Chicopee is set to expand into West Springfield with a campus on Main Street. The decision to place a charter school in our town was approved in the early months of 2018 by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and it has conjured a plethora of controversy in families and government officials throughout the town and state. However, some may be unaware of what exactly a charter school is, and how it differs from the public and private schools that already exist within our town.
A charter school, in some ways, is kind of like a combination between a public and private school. It has qualities of both, such as no tuition and state funding like a public school, but also has an application process and their own set of rules, regulations and curriculum like a private school. Yet, a charter school is not able to be classified under a specific category: it is its own breed.
Public schools are the most commonly attended schools in the country as they are the most accommodating to students from all walks of life, are located in mostly every town or area and don’t require an application or tuition. The West Springfield Public School system covers ten schools within our community: John Ashley Kindergarten, Cowing Alternative Elementary School, Cowing Early Childhood Center, Coburn Elementary, Fausey Elementary, Memorial Elementary, Mittineague Elementary, Tatham Elementary, West Springfield Middle School and West Springfield High School. Teachers at these schools are required to be state certified and teach the state regulated curriculum, following all guidelines and rules set by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. They are run by local boards with elected town officials and also by their corresponding school district.
There are also a few private schools in town: St Thomas the Apostle, a private catholic school, Montessori Children’s House and Pace Center. These types of schools hold an application and sometimes an interview process, but are more selective to the students they admit as they are able to pick and choose who they want to attend their school. Charter schools are unable to discriminate against gender, religion, etc. while there are no rules against private schools doing so. Private schools also create their own curriculum, one that is, again, not approved by the state. They also charge tuition to attend, unlike public and charter schools.
Charter schools, to start, hold an application process and admit students normally on a lottery based scale. They do not follow the curriculum set by the state for elementary and secondary education; they create their own set of rules and standards, i.e. charter, and are required to abide by their contract in order to receive their funding from the state. Their contract is created and presented before the school branch is opened, and once approved, is put into action. It is created by a group of trustees, whether it be parents, teachers, government officials or a for-profit organization. The private charter has no relation to state education guidelines, and therefore the education that is presented is not approved by the state.
Specifically, Hampden Charter School of Science (HCSS) puts emphasis on areas of math, science and technology while gearing students to prepare for their higher level education. Their mission, as stated on https://hampdencharter.org/, is to “provide a college preparatory-focused education to the youth...in a safe, academically challenging, and caring educational environment...sustain small school size, provide extended math and science curriculum, individualized attention, college guidance, university outreach programs, and to encourage student-teacher-parent partnership.”
There are substantial differences between public, private and charter schools, and the differences that lie in charter schools are what is causing the big debate in town. As HCSS West plans to open a campus in the Merrick section of West Springfield, they are going to be absorbing a small population of students in grades 6-12 from the West Springfield Public School (WSPS) system. In addition, they will be receiving a portion of the state funding that our public schools earn from the state on a per-student basis, meaning that WSPS will be losing a chunk of the funds they have to support the already existing schools.
On May 30, another topic of concern was brought to light in the showing of a documentary entitled “Killing Ed,” which exposes the harsh reality that occurs in charter schools in Texas. As stated on killinged.com, “Killing Ed enlightens its audiences everywhere with a shocking, first-hand look inside the schools while revealing the corruption of those attempting to privatize our public schools through education ‘reform’ in America.” Following the film, a discussion panel was held with Mary Addi, a former charter school teacher; Mark Hall, director and producer; John Martin, a former charter school teacher; Massachusetts State Senator Jim Welch and Representative Mike Finn; and President of the Turkish American Society of Western Massachusetts, Tuncay Bayrak. Each voiced their main concerns and stance on charter schools and HCSS West specifically, also opening up for audience questions and discussion.
The film and discussion were mainly regarding the chances of HCSS having affiliations with the Gulen Movement, an Islamic initiative led by Fethullah Gulen, which is raising uncertainty as officials would rather not have that sort of affiliation present in the town. Resident’s tax dollars from the public school budget will now go toward the funding of the charter schools, and they are thought to funneled into this group. This means that Massachusetts taxpayers would have their money going to a civic organization rather than improving the education of the youth in the public school system.
Hampden Charter School of Science West is set to open for the 2018-2019 school year and will be available for students from Agawam, Holyoke, Westfield and West Springfield. It will be located at the former Immaculate Conception St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish on 475-485 Main Street.