New charter school for Westfield students

WESTFIELD – A new charter high school set to open this fall is targeting six primary communities, including Westfield.
The Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School was approved this week by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Located at 52 Main St., Holyoke, the school is free to students and is currently accepting applications for incoming ninth graders.
School founder and Principal Ljuba Marsh said because they just received approval this week, there is a very short window of opportunity for applications.
“Students must apply by March 12,” said Marsh, adding that the school must have its applications to the state March 13. “So anyone who thinks they might be interested should apply because applying does not commit them, but if they don’t apply by the deadline, they cannot enroll this year.”
Marsh said the school is opening for ninth grade only this year and will add one grade over the next four years.
Marsh and co-founder Bob Brick began the process of creating the school three years ago. The pair also founded the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts charter high school, now located in South Hadley.
“A lot of what that school was founded on was social justice principles,” said Marsh. “The students and faculty work together and are very active not only in the school, but in the community. Although a lot of people know about the school, we never really acknowledged the social justice part of it.”
PVPA is widely known for its quality arts programs, something Marsh is proud of.
“When we started the school, there were not a lot of arts programs in local schools and after we opened, there was a return to the arts in the valley, and it is that effect that we hope will happen again with the new school,” said Marsh.
The Paulo Freire School is designed for high achieving students who will not only excel in academics in preparation for college, but will focus on social justice.
The school will provide excellent academic, technology, arts/media, sports, and community development programs, with small classes (15 students to a class), college preparation, engaged activity-based learning, and individualized focus and support.
“We are looking for students who will take charge and become leaders who will do something of value in the world,” said Marsh. “We expect our students to be leaders in their communities and do what is needed in the world.”
Marsh said Paulo Freire School has formed partnerships with most area colleges and will offer extensive support services.
“Whatever a student needs for support, we will give them,” said Marsh, citing tutors and summer programs as examples.
Marsh said while many people think charter schools take students away from other public schools and reduce their funding, charter schools actually pay the school district for every student attending the charter school.
“The first year, the district gets 100-percent reimbursement, the second, third and fourth years it receives 25-percent,” said Marsh. “So, for not having a student in the school, they get a significant amount as opposed to school choice or a vocational school.”
Applications from students will be accepted from all families in Massachusetts.  Priority will be given to residents of Holyoke, Chicopee, West Springfield, Westfield, South Hadley and Northampton. All applications to be considered in the first lottery must be post-marked no later than March 12, 2012. Students submitting applications are under no obligation to attend and may choose to withdraw at any time.
Applications can be downloaded from the schools website: paulofreirecharterschool.org or by calling the school’s founders, Ljuba Marsh at 413-230-6214, or Bob Brick at 413-575-0084.

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