By John Lynds
The Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education has endorsed East Boston’s Excel Academy Charter School’s application for two new charter schools in Boston and Chelsea.
Commissioner Mitchell Chester endorsed Excel’s plan late last week and it will need final approval from the Massachusetts Department of Education on February 28.
“Along with the expansion of other high-performing charter school organizations in the area, this news marks a truly great day for families across the greater Boston area,” said Excel’s CEO Dai Ellis.
If approved by the DOE, Excel will be chartered to open a new middle school in Chelsea this fall, followed a year later by a larger school in Boston serving grades 5-12. Together, these schools will quadruple Excel’s enrollment and enable the school to reach many more students and families.
“Excel has already been gearing up to open its second school in Chelsea this August,” said Ellis. “Stephanie Morgan, who will be leading the Chelsea school, has been working closely with our existing school’s principal Komal Bhasin to prepare for her new role.”
Ellis said Morgan has already begun to hire key members of her founding team and the school is in the late stages of identifying a facility for the school.
“We already have more than enough applications to fill our inaugural fifth grade class,” said Ellis. “After only a few weeks of applications being available, over 15 percent of current 4th graders in Chelsea have applied for a spot in the fifth grade class at Excel Academy–Chelsea.”
The move would most likely free up spots in the Excel school in Eastie that serves students from both Eastie and Chelsea.
Excel is currently in the process of moving the local school from Saratoga Street next to CVS to the former St. Mary’s Star of the Sea school.
Excel purchased the former parochial school and adjacent convent from the Boston Archdiocese for a reported $1.8 million.
Last month, Excel signed a purchase and sale agreement and began trying to gain community support for the project, which, judging from a recent community meeting seems like an easy task for the school.
At a meeting in January, residents got a glimpse of the proposed plans, which includes tearing down the convent, adding a glass solarium as an entranceway to the school and adding attractive landscaping around the campus.
Abutters to the school in the Star of the Sea neighborhood were thrilled with the idea of the building, which has been vacant for close to three years, being used as an educational institution again.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority and architects said if all goes well with the community process, Excel should begin construction in July and be completed with the rehab of the building and surrounding grounds by August of 2012. The school would then be opened for the 2012/2013 school year.
Before that, Excel plans to open a second location in the city for grades 5 through 12.
“We plan to apply for additional charters over time,” said Ellis. “We are building our network of supporters, creating a strong pipeline of talented teachers and school leaders, and developing systems to ensure that we preserve what has made Excel so distinctive as we grow.”
Ellis added that the move by Commissioner Chester marks the beginning of a new era in the history of public education in greater Boston.
“Families will have a rapidly growing opportunity to ensure that their children have access to the highest quality education,” said Ellis. “While Massachusetts has always been a pioneer in education, Boston now has a real chance to become a leader in closing the achievement gap.”