TOWNSEND — Local students who are looking for a charter-school experience might get it without even stepping out of the district as early as next year.
That’s because the North Middlesex Regional School District is exploring the idea of becoming one of the state’s first 16 districts to open a so-called “readiness school” — an in-district, charter school-like program.
The goal is to prepare students for the “challenges of the 21st century” that they will face in college and at work, said Assistant Superintendent Deborah Brady. Curriculum may not be the only thing that’s unconventional; pay for teachers and administrators may depend on school performance.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently awarded North Middlesex with a $10,500 Readiness Schools Preliminary Planning Grant. This was a share of the $200,000 provided to 16 different districts — including Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District and Boston Public Schools — as part of the Patrick administration’s Readiness Schools Initiative.
Details of readiness schools, including where funding would come from, will depend on legislation that the Patrick administration will file, according to the DOE.
The preliminary planning grant allows recipient districts to hire a consultant and determine their needs and game plans in the meantime. If things go as proposed, readiness schools could open in the fall of 2010.
During a School Committee meeting on June 29, just hours after receiving the grant, Superintendent Maureen Marshall and Brady shared their idea to set up the readiness school at Squannacook Elementary School in Townsend — which will be now open for preschool only after financial woes forced the district to shut it down.
Some parents noted that Peter Fitzpatrick Elementary School, the other school that fell victim to the budget problem, would be a more central location. In response to parents’ questions about the readiness school itself, Marshall said she did not know what it might look like, as the planning grant will help figure out just that.
The DOE said there are three types of readiness schools:
* “Advantage schools,” in which faculty and administrators develop an “innovation plan”;
* “Alliance schools,” in which external partners such as colleges and museums play a central role in developing innovation plan;
* “Acceleration schools,” into which underperforming schools are converted.
Readiness schools have more flexibility and autonomy than conventional schools in terms of curriculum, budget, staffing, policies and school schedule and calendar.
North Middlesex’s grant application to the DOE shows the district is interested in creating Squannacook Advantage Secondary School for grades 5-12, including school-choice students. It will be designed to “challenge all students, at risk, average, and successful, to prepare for their lives in the 21st century,” the application says.
The district plans to form an Advantage School Task Force, composed of parents, teachers, administrators and School Committee members, to develop curriculum with an emphasis on multicultural awareness, technological literacy and real-world applications. The group will also investigate the merits of performance-based pay, “based upon the attainment of teacher or administrator quality benchmarks and on student achievement for both teachers and administrators.”
“They are an alternative to the creation of charter schools, which some districts feel take resources from (them),” Brady said in an e-mail to The Sun yesterday. “Squannacook is now a school that is partially empty and we are considering whether or not it is appropriate for a readiness school and whether or not it suits our community’s needs.”
DOE spokesman Jonathan Considine said that until a legislation is filed, it is unknown whether there will be additional state funding for districts to run readiness schools. In the meantime, the agency will be aggressively pursuing federal stimulus money as a funding source, Considine said.