The Next Charter School is evolving along with its students.
Joe Crawford, Next co-director, and Next Board Chairman Kim Crowley appeared at the Sept. 22 School Board meeting to discuss what’s new with the charter high school, including its new location and a revised math curriculum, and what remains the same: its mission of providing an individualized education for each of its students.
Crawford said Next moved into its new space this summer, the former Technology Education (Tech Ed) quarters in the basement of Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, and opened for the 2015-16 season on Sept. 8.
The new space is a “radical transformation” of a Tech Ed facility that had remained largely unchanged since the 1960s. Crawford and co-director Justin Krieger worked with architect Frank Marinace’s design team to make a space that fits the unique needs of Next.
The school did not have to purchase any furniture for the move, he said. “Our furniture is only two years old, so we repurposed it,” he said.
The school began life three years ago in the former DEEP (Derry Early Education Program) preschool space, also at Hood. When the number of preschoolers expanded, the board moved Next to a former eighth-grade pod area at West Running Brook Middle School. But parents and community members were unhappy with that choice, and the board crafted a solution with the Tech Ed space at Hood.
Crawford said they have slightly less space than at West Running Brook. Some classrooms at West Running Brook were 900 square feet and that didn’t always work, he said. “Our classes hover around 10 students,” Crawford said. “Sometimes it’s more, sometimes less.” But the “more” was generally not enough to make 900 square feet work, he said, and his students often looked lost in the big rooms.
He and Krieger had a chance to customize the Hood space. They went for a mixture of classroom sizes and one open space for all-school meetings. “We can accommodate 71 people,” he said.
There was a shortage of office space in their West Running Brook facility, and they made sure three offices were included in the Hood design: one for conferencing, one for guidance and one for the co-directors to share. “At West we were conferring in the stairwell,” Crawford said.
Board member Brenda Willis, who also sits on the Next board, had attended the Next open house the previous week and said, “It’s good to see the growth of the students. They want to be there.”
Students also participated in the Next information booth Crawford and Krieger ran at the recent Derryfest.
School Board Chairman Dan McKenna asked Crowley, “What about the size of Next? Where do you see that going?”
“We’ll see how it goes with 60,” the current enrollment, Crowley said. The charter allows up to 90 students, but “it doesn’t say we have to be at 90. It’s an ongoing discussion,” she said.
The school opened three years ago with 30 students, went to 45 last year, and opened this year with 60, 53 of whom are Derry residents.
Board member Michelle McKinnon asked when a family can put their child on the waiting list.
Crawford said Next has an open enrollment policy, “365 days a year,” but families should not join the wait list before their child reaches eighth grade. The program is lottery-based, and children can apply up until the end of March of their eighth-grade year. All applications go into the lottery. Students currently enrolled in high school can apply any time, he said.
McKenna asked if Derry students have priority.
They do, Crawford responded. In every lottery cycle, the available seats are first filled with Derry students. After that, up to 90 percent of the seats are reserved for Derry students up to the opening of school. This year’s student population has 53 Derry residents and seven non-residents, though that number is deceptive, he said, because two of those seven are former Derry residents who moved and chose to continue attending the school.
The path to math
The school opened its year with the traditional overnight trip, this time to Mayhew Island in Newfound Lake. Then it was down to the business of learning, with several curriculum changes and tweaks.
They have been looking at the math program, Crawford said. New Hampshire requires three credits of math for graduation. “Many students choose to do more,” he said. The problem is that not all of them begin from the same place.
The “traditional” path to math is first Algebra I, then Geometry, then Algebra II, Crawford said. But under the Common Core system a second option is allowed: Integrated Math, which alternates the three disciplines. Next has provided Integrated Math from the beginning.
“But we realized what kind of math these students will need in today’s world,” Crawford added, and they replaced their Math II track with Financial Algebra, applying algebra to make real-life financial decisions.
They also found some students not quite ready for Math I, so they’ve added a foundational course, Math Literacy.
Next has also expanded its electives and now allows foreign languages to be studied through the Rosetta Stone program, along with new choices in English and Art.
“We are piloting a Statistical Literacy course, an English/Language Arts elective,” Crawford said.
He, Krieger and the board are excited about a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU with Pinkerton Academy in which Next students will be allowed to take Pinkerton courses. They currently have nine students taking courses at the semi-private high school, including band, physics, Career and Technical Education, and one child playing soccer. Derry tuitions its high school students to Pinkerton.
The six students in the senior class are also involved in their Capstone project, an internship in the community, Crowley said. Capstone projects range from nursing to architecture to graphic design to horology, or the study of antique clocks.
But they’ll continue to come “home” to Next, their school of choice, for an education that fits their needs.
“For a basement, there’s a lot of light down here,” Crawford observed.