Interest surges in Chinese-language charter schools

By: 
Seth Jovaag

For the second time since it was founded in 2010, a local charter school that teaches kids in both Chinese and English will have a waiting list of parents hoping to enroll their kids.

Last Friday was the deadline for district parents to apply to send their kids to one of three Verona Area School District charter schools – New Century School, open to kids in grades K-5; Core Knowledge (K-8) and the Verona Area International School, which is adding a grade next year to become a K-4 school.

The district’s recently approved fourth charter school, the Exploration Academy for high school kids, is still accepting applications.

VAIS is a language-immersion school that opened in 2011-12 with 22 kids in grades K-1. It was cleared to add 22 kids a year until it reached grades K-5.

In its first year, VAIS had 30 applicants for 22 spots. But in each of the past two years, it fell just short of its enrollment goals. However, as of Friday’s deadline, 38 kids applied for 22 openings, which will require the district to hold a lottery drawing Friday to determine who gets in.

The increase in applicants comes less than three months after the district decided to offer a Spanish-language immersion program for up to 72 English- and Spanish-speaking kindergarteners next fall.

It seemed possible that offering another language-immersion program could undercut interest in VAIS. But VAIS director Amanda Zanchetti-Mayo had a different take.

“Our hope was that by introducing that (new bilingual) program, it would get more people in the district talking about immersion and bring more attention to our program,” she said. “I have a feeling that it did.”

VAIS also likely benefited from having three years under its belt and receiving a five-year extension of its charter in December 2011, she said.

“We think it’s excellent  news,” she said of the high number of applicants.

Meanwhile, Core Knowledge Charter School received 44 applicants for 40 openings at the kindergarten level, said district director of community service John Schmitt. New Century School had 21 applicants for 18 kindergarten slots.
CKCS also had 47 applicants spread across grades 1-7; NCS had four applicants for grades 1-5. Parents will be notified after Friday’s lottery if their child has been accepted or placed on a waiting list.

New high school charter filling, too
Meanwhile, a new charter school inside Verona Area High School so far has 45 applicants for up to 60 openings, school leaders said last week.

The Exploration Academy had a tentative deadline of Feb. 11 to apply. But the school will keep taking applications until it reaches 60, said VAHS associate principal Michael Murphy. After that, new applicants will be added to a waiting list.

Unlike the district’s other three charters, the academy will accept students throughout the school year, as long as it has space for them.

The academy – Verona’s fourth charter school – will be housed in the K-wing at the high school. Open to kids in grades 9-12, it will let teens work at their own pace on projects that mesh with their passions and interests through “project-based learning” that could include internships or jobs in the community. It won’t have traditional class schedules, grading systems or subject-based courses.

What: Charter high school that employs “project-based learning”
Where: VAHS K-Wing
When: Enrolling for Fall 2013
Max enrollment: 60

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