Charter school looks to triple in size, add high school & ‘phase out’ N.S. students

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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.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. I am a big fan of NRI NOW. Their journalism is solid and the inevitable mistakes occasionally made are promptly corrected. In this story you have one of those mistakes, a glaring one.

    First, using the the data from two years ago, 2020-21, a school year so disrupted that the RI Dept. of Education waived the accountability responsibility for all districts and charters, you purport to demonstrate an rough equivalency between the performance of the RISE elementary school Mayoral Academy and the North Smithfield elementary school, which, if solidly founded, would be of concern to North Smithfield parents, given that the School Department has chosen not to tuition N.S. students at RISE.

    Yet, according to the testing results of this immediately past, non-Covid impacted school year, 2021-22—which NRI NOW somehow failed to consult—North Smithfield’s elementary school cleaned the clocks of the RISE Mayoral Academy elementary school. While RISE’s scores barely improved, North Smithfield’s soared.

    Math proficiency at RISE was only 31.9% versus 54% at North Smithfield elementary. In English Language Arts, Rise scored only 32.6% proficient while North Smithfield’s students achieved 54.4% proficiency.

    The North Smithfield School Committee would appear to have had both the students’ and the taxpayer’s best interests in mind when they chose to opt out of the much vaunted but poorly scrutinized RISE
    elementary school Mayoral Academy and its proposed Middle and High School extensions.

    If we are to indulge in odiferous metaphor, smelling roses rather than cow manure would be the most appropriate description of the North Smithfield School Committee’s decision.

    • Hi Bill.
      I’m a little confused by your comment and I think you may be misinterpreting something in the story, which means I was unclear, so first, sorry for that. The comparison between the RICAS scores are taken directly from information provided in the recommendation by RIDE to the Council of Elementary & Secondary Education, so it’s their comparison, not mine. And it states above that North Smithfield students DID out-score RISE students in the year provided. They did even more so, apparently, in the recent assessment, but I did not dig that up as that was not the only focus of the story and it was making the same point already made.
      Am I missing something or did the article read incorrectly?

      • North Smithfield has chosen NOT to tuition any of its elementary school aged children to RISE Mayoral Academy’s elementary school, correct?

        And some North Smithfield citizens have commented about that choice with concern; concern that would be perfectly legitimate given the performance comparison NRI NOW provides from the 2020-21 Covid-impacted school year: Stats demonstrating that the North Smithfield school performed merely “slightly better” than RISE Academy on the “RICAS” math and ELA assessments. And RIDE itself considered the ’20-21 statewide results so skewed by Covid that they waived all district accountability measures for attendance and performance.

        However, my point, as made, is that a the LATEST school year data, available since November on the RI Dept. of Education’s website, tells very different story. For the 2021-22 school year, the North Smithfield Elementary School students and their teachers did far better than RISE Academy’s students and teachers. It follows that North Smithfield school official have a solid case to make supporting their decision NOT to require the Town’s taxpayers to tuition local elementary students to RISE Academy.

        By not including this latest data in the NRI NOW report, North Smithfield readers, as can be seen, may come to the wrong conclusions about the competency of their schools.

        (And these results were not a blip. For the last non-Covid school year, 2018-19, North Smithfield elementary scored 70% and 57% proficient and advanced on ELA and Math respectively. The rest of northern RI can only envy North Smithfield’s results.)

        And I am not implying that RISE Mayoral, in its application to the RI Council of Education for its expansion scheme, is cherry picking data in order to put the best face on its operation. Obviously, their application predates the November release of the 2021-22 data. And the Covid-skewed ’20-21 data was all they had to go on as in 2018-19, the school was barely open and with just grades 1 to 3.

        • Ok.
          I suppose I just thought when you referred to a “glaring mistake,” it must be something more than just that you feel more recent data should have also been included. Because – and thank you for noticing – we DO try to correct and acknowledge any errors immediately, so I was concerned there was something that needed correction/retraction. That is not the case.
          While I understand your point about the latest RICAS scores, the article clearly states “North Smithfield students on average are actually out-scoring those at the neighboring charter school.” And that is far from the only focus of the piece. Reality is, the entire expansion and change in sending districts seem to have gone largely under the radar. Expect follow up and more questions to be answered. But I would disagree in qualifying anything here as a mistake or an error.

          • Point taken, Sandy. It was I who was mistaken in characterizing the absence of North Smithfield’s latest achievement data as an error of fact of any description. However, given the sharp divergence between the ’20-21 and ’21-22 data, demonstrating North Smithfield’s much stronger recovery from its Covid lows than RISE Academy, I believe the omission of that latest tends to prejudice the reader in favor of RISE. The facts, as RISE presents them in its application, are outdated by a year.

        • Bill, here is the fact that says RI public union schools are failing. RI spends the 2nd most per capita in New England but is dead last in test scores. We need change from the normal. We need to be able to evaluate teachers each year and get ride of the poor performers as is done in Massachusetts. The reason for virtually zero review of performance of teachers in RI is due to strong hold union who’s moto is less work, more pay, keep the status quo. A 50% achieving means that 50% are not achieving. I want something more for my tax dollar or we can reduce spending as spending more has had zero effect of performance.

    • You’re assuming the North Smithfield School Committee made a decision in this matter and that does not appear to be the case. The Superintendent stated he was not even aware of the expansion so I doubt the school committee ever discussed this at a public meeting. It also appears nobody asked the Superintendent’s opinion on the issue. I don’t recall seeing this topic on any school committee or town council agenda. If a decision was made without any input from the superintendent, school committee, town council or residents that absolutely stinks like cow manure, not roses.

      • I can’t argue with that, Mike. NRI NOW should inquire. We both know how capricious and maddening school departments can be. And most of the time, as they stumble around the landscape, they do indeed “step in it” repeatedly. North Smithfield, I propose, is the rare exception, having stumbled into a bed of roses so far as instruction and achievement are concerned. I would be forgiving and chastise gently if it should be that they’ve violated procedure regarding the tuition issue.

      • I can’t argue with that, Mike. NRI NOW should inquire. We both know how capricious and maddening school departments can be. And most of the time, as they stumble around the landscape, they do indeed “step in it” repeatedly. North Smithfield, I propose, is the rare exception, having stumbled into a bed of roses so far as instruction and achievement are concerned. I would be forgiving and chastise gently if it should be that they’ve violated procedure regarding the tuition issue.

  2. Why doesn’t ALL schools in RI have highly structured environments, character education, and rigorous curriculum? Seems like RI is developing a two tiered system of education, one for the haves and one for the have nots.

  3. This is only my opinion but…………..Why do my taxes pay for students in my town’s public school system and MY TAXES also pay for students to go to these Charter schools. I pay to educate them twice and bus them and feed them TWICE ! If the parents of the children want ME to PAY for their education………..sent them to the public school in the town or city they live in ! Other wise PAY FOR THE SCHOOLING YOURSELVES ! These are nothing more than FREE PRIVATE schools ! What a racket !

  4. I certainly hope someone can explain why North Smithfield students will be excluded from attending. Something smells in this deal.

    • According to a source that is for now unofficial, the school can only accept students from communities that signed a support letter, It’s unclear (at least to me) exactly what changed with that

    • Sounds/smells like a union deal. I like choice of education. I don’t understand how the North Smithfield superintendent can actually believe that 36.1 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectation in math is good. This means that 63.9 percent are not meeting expectations. The public education system needs and overhaul. This is what you get when you waste money on football fields and athletics instead of education.

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