Despite looming deadline, Advanced Academy could be year off, officials say

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Today [Wednesday, Jan. 27] is the last day for prospective locations to get their proposals in to be the first home of the Worcester school district’s Advanced Academy high school.

District administration stopped accepting location proposals this morning at 10 a.m. and will begin the review process of the submitted proposals.

According to Worcester Public Schools interim Superintendent Marco C. Rodrigues, whatever space the city decides on will have to be ready to host the academy in time for next school year.

“We continue to plan all aspects of the academy with the intent of opening it in September,” Rodrigues wrote in an email. “Meanwhile, I am exploring some internal options that would not incur additional costs to the district.”

As to what those internal options are, Rodrigues wouldn’t comment because it is “not public information yet.” But he said the options would be shared soon.

According to School Committee member John Monfredo, however, plans to open the school and have it ready for next school year may be stalled because of a lack of funding in next year’s budget.

Monfredo said, “ [I’m] not sure in what direction it will be going for we have to see what we have for funding. The budget does not look good for next school year.”

John Monfredo

Courtesy LinkedIn

John Monfredo

“I believe that we may have to wait another year before we have the school in place,” Monfredo added.

Rodrigues said, “… the planning phase to open the Advanced Academy continues to move forward. However, when the Governor’s budget is announced later this week, the district may be faced with significant financial gap due to our flat enrollment and zero inflation rate.”

“Depending on the gap, we will be faced with some difficult decisions, including whether the opening of the Advanced Academy should be postponed for one year. The RFP is included in the fold. However, I am confident that the internal option I was investigating for the AA may become a reality. I will be able to share that information soon.”

Marco Rodrigues

Courtesy of Worcester Public Schools

Marco Rodrigues

The academy plans to follow the curriculum of an International Baccalaureate [IB] program. The school will be highly competitive and will consists of grades 9-12. Students will study Languages, Social Studies, Art, Science and Math.

According to the district’s request for proposal [RFP], the ideal location for the advanced academy would have at least 75 parking spaces and an interior space of 25,500 square feet.

The IB program is recognized as a “comprehensive and challenging curriculum, and its mission emphasizes the importance of educating students to become knowledgeable, curious and compassionate young people, who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” according to the RFP.

The advanced academy hopes to enroll a maximum 250 students for students in grades 9-12 with its first incoming class of freshmen to start this fall.

The academy would require two science labs, five administrative offices, a kitchen, a cafeteria, an assembly space, a media center or library, and space for recreation.

The academy would also preferably be located within two miles of Doherty Memorial High School.

In 2012, Mayor Joseph M. Petty developed a community task force, chaired by former School Committee member Tracy O’Connell Novick, to address the city’s need for an exam school for gifted learners.

Under former superintendent Melinda J. Boone, the proposal for the academy took shape and was originally intended to be placed at Doherty High, which was selected because of its central location in the city.

Last April, however, Boone said Doherty would not be able to accommodate the academy because of space issues.

The school district was counting on funding from the state School Building Authority to renovate or replace Doherty, which would lead to building the recommended accommodations for the Advanced Academy and allow Doherty to be its home.

The authority, for the second year in a row, passed on Doherty [as well as Burncoat and East Middle] and now a permanent site for the academy within the school district is needed.

The school is still scheduled to open this September. Over its first five years, including this past year of planning the school’s curriculum and hiring teachers and administration, the school has an initial budget of $6.25 million.

Originally, the district was going to stop accepting applications on Jan. 6, but extended that time and opened another bid for prospective sites for additional classrooms and administrative offices for Chandler Elementary.

Chandler Elementary is considered overcrowded by school officials with 501 students enrolled, a 20 percent leap from the 400 students at the school in 2013.

According to Rodrigues, “As per the Chandler Elementary RFP, it will go through the budget process and we must be ready for the opening of schools in August 2016.”

The district is looking to sign a three-year lease (with a two-year extension option) with a preferred location that is within ½  mile of Chandler Elementary, and can provide up to ten classrooms and 30 parking spaces for parents and staff.

The school uses its library and computer lab as classroom space, and has four classrooms at the YMCA on Main Street.

Monfredo believes finding space for the Chandler Elementary students should be the priority before finding space for the Advanced Academy.

Monfredo said, “Chandler Elementary is the only school they’re looking for space and I know the students there are currently using classrooms at the YMCA. I hear the principal at Chandler [Jessica Boss] has been actively looking at various spots, including the Fanning building across from the DAB [Durkin Administration Building].”

Information on bids for the Advanced Academy and Chandler Elementary will be posted on the Closed Bids section of the Bids-Purchasing page on the city’s website.

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