The Next Charter School will continue to educate high school students from Derry and the surrounding towns in its space at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, after the Derry School Board formally approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the charter school and the district.
The 10-year lease got a nod from voters in the March 8 town and school voting. Next Co-Directors Joe Crawford and Justin Krieger appeared at the May 3 School Board meeting to answer questions and witness the formal vote.
Next opened its doors 2-1/2 years ago after the Derry School Board observed that some Derry students were not succeeding as well as they could at Pinkerton Academy, the semi-private school that is the town’s high school of record. The school received its charter in June 2012.
The original memorandum was for the school to lease space from the Derry Cooperative School District at $1 per year, for five years. The school’s first home was in the former DEEP (Derry Early Education Program) space at Hood. When the number of preschoolers seeking DEEP services outgrew its space at Grinnell Elementary School, DEEP moved back to Hood and Next moved to West Running Brook Middle School.
That arrangement was unpopular with parents, and this past summer the charter school was offered the former Technology Education space in the basement at Hood, with a separate entrance and parking, and Next remodeled the space at its own expense.
The rent agreed upon by the parties is $20,732 for the first year, 2016-17, gradually rising to $27,251 in 2025-26, with a 3 percent increase each year due to utility costs. The total for the 10 years is $237,678, plus the $206,000 Next paid for improvements, for a total of $443,678 in revenue.
Krieger said they have been in that space since September 2015, and “it has worked exceptionally well.” The space has been customized for Next and is a school within a school, but he said when he’s had to interact with Hood and DEEP personnel, it has been cooperative and harmonious.
“I feel good about where we’re at,” Krieger said.
Board Chairman Dan McKenna and new member Derick Anderson have both visited the Next location. McKenna said, “I saw them in action. It’s a good fit.”
“There is a lot of energy from the students, and a serious but comfortable atmosphere,” Anderson agreed.
McKenna said the new lease will accelerate the process of Next paying full rent by two years.
“I have been happy with the transparency between our two organizations,” Crawford said. “It’s not always been easy to coordinate things, but this has been transparent and clear.” From the superintendent’s office to the two middle schools, “It has been wonderful,” he said.
The board unanimously approved the 10-year lease.
The original charge was to meet the needs of Derry residents, and McKenna asked how many Derry students are enrolled at Next. Krieger said the school began the year with 60 students and is now down to 53, of whom 46 are from Derry. The projected enrollment for next year is a cap of 70, and of those, 62 are from Derry, he said.
But Crawford added that it’s difficult to project, because students often don’t decide to go to Next until May, June, July or August.
McKenna asked what the permanent enrollment cap was and Krieger said the state authorized up to 90 students. But after 2-1/2 years, he said, he and Crawford and the board aren’t so sure they want to go that high.
“We’re talking now about is 90 too aggressive? Will we lose the individuality, the personalization?” he said.
Krieger said he, Crawford and their board will be studying the first class to graduate this June, to see where they’re headed and what they’ve accomplished, and assess the mission of the school before adding more students.
The first Next graduation ceremony will be held June 16 at 4 p.m. in the Derry Opera House. For more information, call 437-6398.