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Marblehead Charter School to Buy Building for $4.25 Million

August 17, 2014 : The Boston Globe; by Steven A. Rosenberg

The Marblehead Community Charter Public School, the first charter school in the state, is poised to spend $4.25 million to acquire the building it has rented since it opened in 1995.

“We’re going to stabilize our costs and reduce expenditures in the long run,” said Nina Cullen-Hamzeh, principal, superintendent, and chief executive officer of the grade-4-to-8 school.

Cullen-Hamzeh, who was one of the first teachers to be hired 19 years ago, said the school plans to finance the purchase of the Lime Street building — a former sail-making factory and Elks lodge — with loans from MassDevelopment and East Boston Savings Bank.

She said the school would pay its mortgage with some of the funds it receives from the state — about $10,000 per student.

“We’ve spent almost $4 million on rent in the last 19 years. If we continue to rent we have no equity, no real control. Our mortgage cost is essentially equivalent to our rental payment,” she said.

Over the years, the school has expanded on the rented property — raising $300,000 in 2004 to build a gym and an additional educational wing. With the purchase, the school will also gain an additional 8,575 square feet of space (now used as a warehouse by the present owner), expanding the school to 33,000 square feet on the 1.5-acre property. Cullen-Hamzeh said a task force would be created to determine how best to use the additional space.

Located on a dead end street on the edge of Marblehead’s Old Town, the school is best known for its collaborative relationships between students, educators, and parents.

With 230 students — about 160 from Marblehead and the rest coming from Swampscott, Nahant, Salem, Lynn, and Saugus — the school has small class sizes (up to 23) and one of its missions is to foster close-knit collaborations. In addition to core subjects, the school meets every morning in its community room — a former Elks function hall — for an open discussion; students have two 30-minute recesses each day during which they're required to walk or run at least a half-mile.

Students also meet after school for 45-minute “enrichment classes” taught by parents and other volunteers. Those classes include art, music, jazz band, and theater. In addition, students are required to take part in three schoolwide public exhibitions each year, in which they present individual projects based on math, science, history, art, writing, or a foreign language.

Students at the school also eat what they grow. They help maintain an organic garden on the premises, and also harvest vegetables that are served at lunchtime.

Like other charters, the Marblehead school is publicly funded and run by a board of directors and a group of educators that are independent of the local school district. Charters must adhere to the state's educational frameworks and like other public schools, are required to meet academic achievement guidelines issued by the state.

The charter school’s MCAS average scores between 2010 and 2013 were identical to the district-run schools in grades 4 to 8 in Marblehead, and all exceeded the state MCAS proficiency average: 87 percent scored proficient or higher in English language arts; 66 percent scored proficient in math; 65 percent scored proficient in science.

Last week, former students helped paint a part of the Marblehead Community Charter Public School building.

Thomas McEnaney, who graduated in 2009 and now attends Lesley University, called the school “open and creative” and welcoming.

“It’s definitely catered toward the individual child rather than the class as a single unit that all learns the same,” said McEnaney, who praised the decision to buy the building. He envisions a library or a science lab in the additional space.

Robert Erbetta, who works as the facilities coordinator at the school, also endorsed the purchase of the building.

“This gives us a home since we invested lots of money into this place — it’s basically a return on our investment,” he said.

© Copyright 2014 The Boston Globe.