Arts Academy Charter School May Call Derry Home

A group of Seacoast-area residents will go before the state Department of Education in August, with the intention of starting an arts-based charter high school in the Derry area in 2014.

Wendie Leweck, chairman of the Friends of the Granite State Arts Academy, said the group has been working on an arts-rich charter school for about three years. The one-year moratorium on charter schools set them back, she said, adding, “Nobody on the team anticipated that it would take this long.”

Leweck and other area parents began talking about the school when they noticed a need in their community. “We wanted a school that was strong in the Core Curriculum and had an intense focus on the arts,” Leweck explained.
The school was intended to complement rather than compete with the other two charter high schools in the area, CATA (Cocheco Arts and Technology Academy) in Dover and GBEC in Exeter. CATA focuses on both the arts and technology, while the Great Bay E-learning Center has a technology focus.

Leweck said Granite State Arts Academy will offer some things CATA doesn’t, such as dance. The school will also teach lighting and other “tech” aspects of theater, using the tech classes as a way to incorporate more math into the students’ day. Students will learn writing in scriptwriting, and literature in the classic plays they study, Leweck said.

When the state decided it could not support a third charter school in the Seacoast, Leweck and the Friends looked for another region and found it in the southern tier. They will operate out of the Derry-Salem -Atkinson area. Though they haven’t closed the deal yet, they hope to be working out of a facility in Derry.

The board went before the state Board of Education on July 18. Of four charters reviewed that day, three were approved, Leweck said. Granite State Arts Academy (GSAA) was not. “They wanted to sit down and talk to us,” Leweck said. A date of Aug. 19 was set for a second hearing. “I am fairly confident we will be approved,” Leweck said.

After the hoped-for approval in August, they will designate a board, Leweck said, and begin to hire administrators and faculty. They will also begin working on funding.
Financial matters

Leweck, the founding fathers and founding mothers will do extensive fund-raising to make their dream for their children a reality. The state gives $5,450 per student, their “adequate education” allotment, to the charter. But there’s a large gap between that and what it takes to run the school, Leweck said. The average cost to educate a student in New Hampshire is $13,000.

She and the committee plan to bridge that gap with what she calls “creative fund-raising.” Literally. The fund-raisers will all focus on the creative arts, with everything from concerts in the park to arts-based auctions. Leweck and the committee have extensive contacts in the arts community.
And at home, she said. “My younger son just gave us our first donation, $9 from his lemonade stand.”
The ‘A’ in GSAA
Leweck has first-hand experience with charter schools. Her older son, now 16 and a guitarist, studied at the Seacoast Charter School in Kingston and spent a year at GBEC. “I know how a charter school works,” she said.
She also attended an arts-based school, the Los Angeles County School for the Arts. Alumnae include singer Josh Groban and actress Jenna Elfman. Leweck took away from that experience “a wonderful sense of community. It has never dissipated,” she said.

Maybe 1 percent of the students stay in the arts, Leweck said, and few become household names. But they gain something more. “They learn creative problem-solving, different ways of looking at things,” she said. “And they want to pay it forward to the next generation.”

In addition to core curriculum, the school will offer music, dance, theater and visual arts on every level from introductory to master. A student will be expected to take classes in at least two of the disciplines.
The school will cover grades 9 through 12, with 40 in each class and a maximum enrollment of 160. They do not plan to phase this in, Leweck said, but will begin classes in 2014 with a full complement of students. If they have more applicants, they will go to a lottery system, she said. For more information go to