Proposed Westfield charter school would draw from Hampshire County

  • Jeffrey Riley, Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education. DEPARTMENT OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2019 10:57:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Four groups have proposed opening charter schools in Massachusetts next year, and one would draw students from several Hampshire County school districts, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Foundation Academy Charter School, proposed to open in 2020 in Westfield, would be open to students from ​​​​Easthampton, Chesterfield, Goshen, Southampton, Westhampton, Williamsburg, Holyoke, Westfield, Gateway Regional School District and Hampshire Regional High School.

Foundation Academy’s proposed focus would be on athletics along with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

“We feel that the combination of these two items are the foundation of any child’s development,” Frank DeMarinis, the school’s founder, said in an interview with the Gazette. He said athletics teach hard work and dedication.

At most, the school would enroll 580 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. It would be located at 235 Root Road, according to the proposal.

By the middle of next month, DESE will invite some of the proposed schools to submit a full application for review.

DeMarinis said he currently owns the land. In a prospectus application recently submitted to DESE, he stated that the school would lease the building and property. Westfield’s Planning Board voted to approve DeMarinis​​​​​​’ site plan to build a school at a March 2018 meeting, according to meeting minutes.

“The financing and construction of the new building will be conducted at the expense of a private investment group,” the document submitted to DESE states.

DeMarinis is the owner of Sage Engineering and Contracting in Westfield. In Springfield, he bought and renovated a Masonic Temple which is now planned to be used for Springfield Conservatory of the Arts.

Foundation Academy’s board of trustees consists of seven members, including DeMarinis, according to the document submitted to DESE. Members include Carol LaPolice, an educator in Springfield public schools, Susie Mitton Shannon, associate dean of students and director of residence life at Hampshire College, and Susan Homrok Lemke, an administrator at a public school in Connecticut. Bryan Balicki, the vice president of Sage Engineering and Contracting, and Stephanie Anderson, the executive director of Roots Learning Center, are also board members. The seventh member, an administrator in a Massachusetts elementary school, was not named in the application “due to their current employment position and concerns of retaliation.”

Explaining the motivation for the STEM focus, DeMarinis said, “I believe there’s not a large enough focus on that in school.”

“I believe any form of science, engineering or math is essential to survive and succeed in today’s society … I think there’s a lack of engineers and science people in the community,” he said.

Foundation Academy plans to use the facilities next door in the Roots Youth complex, which includes Roots Aquatics and Fitness Center, Roots Athletic Center, Roots Gymnastics and Roots Learning Center, a day care and early education program.

DeMarinis is the founder and president of all of those businesses except Roots Gymnastics, which he used to own but sold.

“We’re planning — if this goes well — we’ll associate and utilize the facilities of Roots athletic centers,” he said. He said the school would be able to use the center at no cost, and documents filed with DESE state that the Roots Learning Center may “be a significant feeding organization to the Foundation Academy.”

Physical education classes would swimming, gymnastics, dance, soccer and lacrosse, the application said.

Athletics may be a requirement before or after school, DeMarinis said. “I think our goal is to provide a more high-end, more intensive program afterward and encourage the kids to partake in that.”

He also said a goal of the school would be to develop students’ athletic skills and they can later join and train with more intensive teams.

“Not all kids are going to end up going that route, but hopefully some do and hopefully the others take a more recreational approach.”

“Me personally, I played almost every sport there was to play,” said DeMarinis, who attended Agawam High School.

In explaining why the Foundation Academy chose the districts it would draw students from, the school stated in its application that it wants to provide more choices. Another reason the application gave is that some of the districts, such as Westfield and Hampshire Regional, give a relatively small percentage of their net school spending to charter schools. A school district’s spending on charter schools is capped at 9 percent, except in the case of low-performing districts, when the percentage can be increased.

In February, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will review finalists. DESE is not currently taking public comments on the proposals but said it plans to in the future.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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