Editor’s note: Officials from RISE spoke to NRI NOW to clarify expansion plans here.
PROVIDENCE – A charter school enrolling students from three northern Rhode Island public school districts has applied to more than triple in size, with an expansion that has been recommended for approval by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
RISE Prep Mayoral Academy hopes to enroll 1,450 students in two grade K-8 schools and one high school by the 2035-2036 school year, up from its current enrollment of 430 young scholars. The Woonsocket-based school, opened in 2015, currently serves students from the city, as well as kids from Burrillville and North Smithfield.
An application to the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education foresees a second K-8 school to be launched in the 2028/2029 year with a class of kindergarten and first grade students, while students from North Smithfield, it states, will be “phased out.”
It’s a needed expansion according to both officials from the Rhode Island Department of Education and proponents of the charter school, who note that RISE currently has nearly ten times as many applications for enrollment than it does available seats.
RISE Prep Mayoral Academy’s, “waitlist identifies a growing desire and need to expand K-8 enrollment in its sending communities,” notes RIDE’s recommendation.
“RIDE, in partnership with the external evaluator SchoolWorks, has conducted an in-depth review of the proposed charter expansion, including RISE Prep Mayoral Academy’s proposed academic model, public feedback, and the impact that the proposed charter would have on local communities,” notes the state education agency. “RIDE has concluded that the proposal submitted by RISE Prep Mayoral Academy is both academically and economically prudent, and will result in high-quality academic opportunities for Rhode Island’s students.”
It is a choice available to parents and students seeking alternatives to what public schools have to offer. RISE aims to offer a “highly structured learning environment,” with a focus on setting up learners for success in college and a life of community engagement.
“The three main pillars of RPMA’s mission are a highly structured learning environment, rigorous college-preparatory curriculum, and character education,” the application notes.
Since it opened in 2015 with 46 kindergarten students, the school has grown to include 430 young scholars in grades K through 7. The school is tuition free, with state and federal funding following the student, but space is limited, and with applicants currently entered in a lottery for seats.
According to the plan, the expansion would first focus on continuation of studies for RISE’s older students now ready for middle school, with the first 9th-grade class of 100 students to be added in the 2023/2024 school year. By the 2027/2028 school year RISE will serve grades k through 12.
A second elementary school will be launched the following year and would also apply a slow-growth model, growing by one grade level through 2036, when RISE expects to serve a total of 1,450 students.
But North Smithfield students will not be included if the expansion moves forward.
“North Smithfield students are not a part of the expansion, and the students from North Smithfield are phased out after scale when they graduate the high school,” the application notes.
While the application does not lay out reasons for the decision, enrollment numbers shared with NRI NOW by Supt. Michael St. Jean show that the number of students from the district attending the charter school decreased significantly over the past year, with just 33 from North Smithfield enrolled this year, down from 44 in the prior school year.
And in performance measures such as statewide assessments, North Smithfield students on average are actually out-scoring those at the neighboring charter school. According to the application, 2021 assessments saw 48.3 percent of the RISE students meet or exceed expectations in English language arts on RICAS, and 23.3 meet the same standard in math. While both Woonsocket and Burrillville students showed lower test scores, North Smithfield students did slightly better, with 54.6 meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA and 36.1 doing so in math.
St. Jean told NRI NOW he was unaware of the proposed expansion.
In Burrillville, meanwhile, Supt. Michael Sollitto said he does not expect the proposal to expand the grade levels at RISE with the addition of a high school to have, “too much of an impact,” on Burrillville schools.
“Most likely, the Burrillville students currently attending RISE will remain there for their high school years as the school expands,” Sollitto said. “We anticipated that this would be the case as RISE expanded by a grade level each year for the past several years.”
Sollitto noted that the larger impact will occur if or when RISE opens a second school during the 2028/2029 school year with grades K & 1.
“At this point, that is a bit too far out to speculate the precise impact,” Sollitto said. “However, I would expect that a handful of students from Burrillville might elect to attend the new school, if approved.”
That means less students in the public school system and with that, less funding, at a cost of $16,851 per pupil from Burrillville. according to the application. RISE expects to enroll a total of 145 students from the town by the 2035/2036 completion.
Still, Sollitto said an exodus to the charter school isn’t the main problem in terms of school funding.
“Our bigger concern is the state funding formula and how charter schools impact the funding of traditional public schools,” he said. “The state funding formula that is currently in place needs major revisions to ensure that school districts and charter schools are properly funded.”
The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to take a final vote on the application in January.