Charter School Stirs Controversy

Cambridge charter school slated to open this fall

Philip A. Ernst

The office of Thomas Fowler-Finn, superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools, sent a letter to thousands of families this January, touting the district’s high school while portraying the charter school as limited in scope and poorly organized.

While most Cantabrigians agree that the city’s public schools need improvement, they have found themselves polarized by a new charter school that will offer an alternative to the current system.

The Community Charter School of Cambridge (CCSC) will open its doors this August to 180 7th and 8th grade students, including 150 from Cambridge.

The school plans to eventually double in size to accommodate both middle and high school students.

A charter school is a public school—it receives a charter from the state and funding from taxpayers—meaning students must meet state educational requirements.

But charter schools operate outside local school districts, developing their

own curricula and making their own own curricula and making their own personnel and budget decisions.

Administrators at CCSC say their students will be able to thrive in a more personalized environment, with close advising and a low student-teacher ratio, in contrast to the large, academically struggling Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), which is located just blocks from Harvard Yard.

But prominent Cambridge officials say they doubt the school will be any better than traditional public schools, and accuse CCSC of draining funds from the school district.

Further complicating the matter is the background of the principal of CCSC, Paula M. Evans, who resigned from her post as principal of CRLS in 2001 after a brief but controversial tenure.

Despite the contention surrounding the school—and the fact that the fledgling institution still has no building or full faculty—the administrators insist that, come August, school will be in session.

THE LEARNING CURVE

CCSC administrators say a major benefit of the charter school will be its intimate learning environment.

Students at CCSC will have daily “advisory” meetings with teachers. In addition, the school will not divide students into courses by academic performance, a practice known as “tracking.” Rather than stratify the student body, students of all ability levels will share a uniform curriculum.

“We know that in schools that are tracked, kids in the lower tracks get less and do less than kids in the higher tracks,” says Evans.

Taking this egalitarian principle one step further, classes will be project-based and students will be judged on individual learning over the course of the project.