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Foxborough Charter’s $26.6 Million Addition Due in 2012

December 9, 2010 : The Boston Globe, by Christine Legere

Construction is underway on a $26.6 million building addition at Foxborough Regional Charter School that will add breathing room for its nearly 1,200 students and get them out of temporary modular space and into classrooms equipped with the latest gadgets.

Funded through a low-interest loan brokered by MassDevelopment, a quasi-public agency, the addition will include 27 classrooms, three science labs, new computer and language labs, a new double gym, renovated cafeteria and media center, centralized administration offices, and a new main entrance.

Middle and high school students at the charter school have been housed for five years in modular classrooms because the number of students has climbed steadily, said Heidi Berkowitz, director of outreach and development. Administrative offices are also in a modular building. But by the spring of 2012, the modular facilities will come down and the new classrooms will be ready to open.

Foxborough Regional Charter School, founded in 1998 for some 562 kindergarten through Grade 8 students, now serves 1,183 children in grades K-12 from 20 communities across Southeastern Massachusetts. Those include Attleboro, Avon, Brockton, Canton, Easton, Foxborough, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleborough, Norton, Norwood, Plainville, Sharon, Stoughton, Walpole, West Bridgewater, and Wrentham.

The school’s reputation as an outstanding college-prep school has resulted in a waiting list of more than 1,200 students, Berkowitz said. Perhaps its most impressive statistic is that 100 percent of its graduating seniors last summer were headed for two- or four-year colleges.

“We have a rigorous academic program focusing on world language study, civic involvement and student leadership, and community service,” Berkowitz said. “We start teaching Spanish in kindergarten and it is a requirement through grade 12. Many of our students test out of college Spanish. All our core academic subjects are rigorous.”

Students don’t wear uniforms at the charter school but must adhere to a strict dress code limited to the school colors of navy blue, tan, and white. Jeans, T-shirts, “unnaturally colored” hair, flip-flops, or piercings other than in ears are all on a long list of prohibited items.

Executive director Mark Logan said the entire campus is excited about the building project.

“This expansion project supports our ability to strengthen an already outstanding academic, service, and leadership program for our students,” Logan said. He credits MassDevelopment for securing a funding source at a low interest rate so the project could move forward.

Spokeswoman Kelsey Abbruzzese said it’s the development agency’s job to work with businesses, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth. “Our organization provides a tax-exempt status for the investor,” she said. “Because investors don’t have to pay taxes on the bonds, they can provide low interest rates.”

She said she cannot disclose the interest rate on the Foxborough school's $26.6 million bond. “With the new addition, the Foxborough Regional Charter School will have better resources for its students,” she said. “We’re happy we can help.”

School officials said the goal of the expansion is not to increase the student body, since it is capped by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at 1,200. The goal, according to information sent to students’ families, is to provide a more suitable learning environment for students and increase the school’s ability to expand academic and extracurricular offerings.

Authorized by the state Education Reform Act of 1993, charter schools are independent public schools that operate under five-year charters granted by the state’s Board of Education. Once the state awards a charter, the new charter school organizes around a core mission, curriculum, theme, or teaching method. In return for a substantial amount of freedom, the school must demonstrate good results within five years or lose its charter.

Attendance at charter schools is tuition-free, just as at public schools. The money to support the schools comes out of the school budgets of the districts whose students attend them. The per-pupil amount for each charter attendee is sent by the district to the charter school. There are 63 charter schools in Massachusetts, and Foxborough Regional Charter School is one of the five largest, said Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokesman J.C. Considine.

Considine said a law enacted last January allowed for some expansion in the charter schools in districts of the greatest need. Several applications for new or expanding schools have been submitted to the state.

“Right now we have 27,000 students in charter schools across Massachusetts and about 26,000 now on waiting lists,” Considine said.

© Copyright 2010 The Boston Globe.