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Mayoral academies seek to expand network

July 13, 2010

Rhode Island could see as many as five new mayoral academy charter schools in the coming years, under a plan by the group that opened Democracy Prep Elementary School in Cumberland last year. Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA), which operates schools outside of teachers’ union contract and prevailing wage laws, hopes to partner with Achievement First, a charter school operator with 17 schools in New York and Connecticut.

“What we’re talking about now is the potential overtime to open five schools with Achievement First, which would likely be two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school,” said RIMA spokesman Mike Magee.

Achievement First is best known for Amistad Academy, its flagship school in New Haven Connecticut, which opened in 1999. The school has received national attention for success  closing achievement gaps for low income and minority students. Resha Singh, director of Rhode Island expansion for Achievement First says the group is already looking for a principal to run an elementary school for Cranston and Providence students.

“ Our goal is to create a K-12th grade network of schools in Rhode Island,” said Singh, who is herself a Rhode Island native.

Singh says Achievement First schools are characterized by a “disciplined buy joyous” school culture and a focus college readiness. They also use a longer school day and school year than traditional public schools.  

RIMA is scoping out locations but is likely to select Cranston, where Mayor Alan Fung has been a vocal supporter of mayoral academies and serves on the RIMA governing board.

Mayoral academies have been controversial in Rhode Island because they are exempt from union and prevaling wage laws. Critics also charge that charter schools drain funds from traditional public schools without producing  better results. Recently, two large-scale studies have seemed to bear out that claim. Both found that on average charter schools do not boost student achievement. In the most recent study, by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., researchres did find notable exceptions, particularly in low-income and urban districts.

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