The Weetumuw Wôpanâak Charter School planned by the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (WLRP)— a nonprofit organization co-founded by Mashpee tribe member Jessie (Little Doe) Baird—was not one of five charter schools approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to advance to the next stage of the 2014-15 charter school application process.
“We were very disappointed,” said charter developer Jennifer C. Weston. However, she added that it is not uncommon for first-time applicants to be asked to redevelop aspects of their proposals.
The WLRP was one of seven charter school applicants invited to submit prospectuses in August after completing the first phase of the application process. If approved, the school was expected to serve 100 students in kindergarten through 5th grade, accepting applications from 39 potential school districts in Barnstable, Bristol, Duke and Plymouth counties. The proposed mission of the school was to instill traditional Wampanoag culture and language, called Wôpanâak, in its students, helping them to achieve academic excellence as well as personal and cultural pride. Most of the classes would have been taught in the native language.
The department’s decision was announced on Tuesday, September 30, naming the founders of the proposed Academy for the Whole Child Charter School and New Heights Charter School of Brockton, both Commonwealth charter schools, and three proposed Horace Mann charter schools, Bentley Academy Charter School, UP Academy Charter School of Springfield and UP Academy Charter School of Boston as those invited to submit final applications by November 5.
“While reviewers noted the inherent value of the proposed culturally-based, native language immersion program in the Weetumuw Wopanaak Charter School proposal, the application did not provide adequate evidence that the group had developed the necessary components to implement the program as a high quality charter public school,” DESE media relations coordinator Jacqueline Reis wrote in an e-mail correspondence yesterday, summarizing the feedback. The proposal had areas of strength, such as structuring the 180-day school year to limit summer learning loss, she added, but it did not adequately address the design and implementation of the proposed educational program. “Reviewers noted that aspects of the proposed educational program were underdeveloped and not consistently reflected throughout the prospectus.”
Ms. Weston said that the charter school board of trustees will begin reviewing the department’s feedback tomorrow. The 25-page document, which she described as “pretty extensive,” includes five or six sections reviewed by several individuals for strengths and weaknesses.
Reviewers recommended visiting charter schools within the state rather than just out-of-state Native American schools, she said, to gain familiarity with daily functions of in-state schools. They also identified areas of the application related to Wôpanâak language immersion that could be further developed.
“It’s a big step to take the stand that we can fully educate students in a Native American language,” Ms. Weston said.
The organization received positive feedback as well. Representatives from the Massachusetts Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign invited the group to meet with them in November and may invite them to attend an orientation for new charter schools the same month, depending on availability. Ms. Weston said that the opportunity would allow them to network with the leaders of other charter schools that have completed the process.
After reviewing the feedback on its proposal, trustees will consider whether to submit a new letter of intent next July.
“It will be helpful for us to look back and develop material more deeply,” Ms. Weston said.