First charter school targets town, drawing school leaders' opposition

An application for a 436-student regional charter school has been filed with the state, and the five proposed communities seeking students include Arlington.

Called a Waldorf-style school, the charter, if approved, would be the first to serve Arlington or Winchester. The kindergarten-through eighth-grade school aims to open in 2017 at a location yet to be named.

School Committee logo
'This will be paid for by taxpayers.'
Paul Schlichtman, committee chairman

It's early in the process, as the initial application was filed in July, and school founders await word from the state this month about whether the application can advance.

Still, the School Committee voted, 7-0, on Thursday, Sept. 10, to write a letter to school committees of the other communities involved -- Cambridge, Medford, Winchester and Everett -- urging them to oppose the application.

Committee Chairman Paul Schlichtman, who asked for the vote, said funds would be taken from Arlington's state aid to pay for the school. "This will be paid for by taxpayers," he said.

Six founders listed in the application for the Great River Community Charter School were asked Monday, Sept. 14, to comment about where the facility would be located.

A number of the founders, some of whom live in Arlington, have connections to Waldorf schools. The nearest one is a private Waldorf school at 739 Mass. Ave., in East Lexington.

They have been asked whether their effort plans to extend what is occurring there -- and, if so, in what way? None has responded, but comments will be added if they do.

Schlichtman added Sept. 16: "The Great River proposal is essentially recreating the Waldorf School in Lexington. Identical grade levels, and the curriculum prospectus is very similar.

 Lexington Waldorf connection

"Several members of the proposed board of directors for the charter school are identified in the Lexington Waldorf proposal as initial proponents and potential members of the Board of Directors."

YourArlington published first

He explained the econonic impact: "People who send children to the Waldorf School in Lexington pay the tuition listed below. The funding for the Great River Charter (Waldorf) School would be funded in the manner used to fund other charter schools, and for FY15, that amounts to $14,398 per pupil from our Chapter 70 aid and no cost to the parents.

"Essentially, an Arlington resident with a child in the Lexington Waldorf school could move their child to the Waldorf charter. The parent would save $21,056, and the town would have [That's] $14,398 garnished from our Chapter 70 account for a child we never saw in the public schools."

In its 457-page proposal, Great River founders spell out what the facility needs required to provide adequate space for instruction and special education. It includes space for a physical education facility, kitchen space and administrative offices.

"The facility needs will grow as grades are added and student enrollment increases," it says. "Year 1 assumes a need for 6,000 square feet of physical space growing to 13,500 in year 5. To reduce moving and expansion costs, Great River Community Charter School plans to occupy a 6,000 square foot facility until year 3 and will plan an expansion of existing space, or a move to a larger 11,000 square foot facility, as student enrollment increases."

As to transportation, it says, "Great River Community Charter School will not provide dedicated transportation for its students. This service will be provided by the local districts for students within the Charter’s regional area."

Cambridge called 'outlier'

As to revenue, the proposal estimates the school will generate income from three sources: state per-pupil charter reimbursement, grant funding and fund-raising.

Student reimbursement from the state will represent the predominate source of funding for the Great River Community Charter School, the proposal says.

The proposal says on p.56 that the annual per-pupil reimbursement rate for each community is included in the table below, excluding Cambridge, but that table is not included in the document YourArlington received.

The document says: "At a reimbursement rate of $25,178, Cambridge is the outlier of the group and creates an inaccurate average in comparison to the other school district rates.

"As such, for the purpose of a conservative income projection, this figure will not be used to calculate state tuition funding.

"In addition, the DESE provides financial support for facilities expenses, which unlike public schools, are not supported by any other state funds.

"The flat facilities rate of $893 per student was allocated to each Massachusetts Charter for Fiscal Year 2015. Budget projections utilize the per pupil reimbursement rate average of $11,000 per pupil as a conservative estimate.

"The tuition revenue assumption conservatively estimates 90% student enrollment per year. In an effort to provide additional programs and cover anticipate income shortfalls, Great River Community Charter School plans to seek grant funds from educational foundations, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education

"We aim to solicit grant funds in the amount of $150,000 for Fiscal Year 2017. Our non-profit educational foundation, the Greater Boston Waldorf Charter Foundation, will lead fundraising efforts and work in conjunction with Great River to create a thriving charter school."

Superintendent Kathleen Bodie brought the proposal school to the committee's attention in an Aug. 24 email. She wrote that she was meeting that day with Charles Hyson, who she called the lead planner for charter initiative.

Effort enacted in 1993

Charters schools, authorized under the 1993 Education Reform Act, are overseen by a state agency that supports a variety of public-school options. They include those that aim to innovate in the areas of instructional practice, time, resources and technology to try to make sure all students in the Commonwealth have equal access to success after high school.

Charters are independent public schools that operate under five-year agreements granted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that permits, among other things, freedom from union contracts.

Waldorf schools were developed after World War I by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. Its approach to teaching emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate pupils' intellectual, practical and artistic development.

Recent posts at the Facebook page of the Greater Boston Waldorf Initiative displays a distaste for lengthy screen time among the young, an issue familiar to many parents. For the full text of Great River's aims, see below.

The Great River Community Charter School proposal says its founders represent a diverse group of experienced individuals who are committed to providing the best possible educational experience to students in the school region. They offer years of experience in teaching, educational policy, board governance, nonprofit management, social work, special needs, the arts, technology, urban planning, health and law.

Background of founders

Here are short biographies of some founders, based on the school's proposal:

Charles E. Hyson Jr. of Medford has a B.S. in engineering from Clarkson University and M.A. in English from Rhode Island College. After three years working as the assistant engineer for the Town of Lincoln, R.I., Hyson returned to school to earn his M.A. by day, while by night he achieved minor celebrity in Indie-rock circles in the 1990s as the touring guitar player for the band Magnetic Fields

Today his fame primarily resides in the classrooms and hallways of Nathan Bishop Middle School, on R.I., where he has been teaching English language arts to middle-school students for 14 years.

He expects to complete his second M.A., in education administration, from Providence College this December. He is the lead developer of the Greater Boston Waldorf Charter School Initiative.

Sarah Bettencourt of Arlington is a teacher with more than 10 years of experience in urban and suburban public school districts. She holds a B.A. from Trinity College and an M.A. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Bettencourt taught at the MATCH Public Charter School in the Boston school’s early years. There, she was involved in creating a program for repeating students, training in regards to improving the writing skills of children with special needs. Subsequently, she taught at Andover High School as well as teaching classes and workshops in Arlington.

Ky Ober of Arlington is on the executive board of the Boston Printmakers, where she has served as coordinator for the Boston
Printmakers Arches Student Exhibition for students from 20 New England Arts Colleges.

Ober has more than 20 years' experience as associate professor of printmaking at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, teaching advanced printmaking to Diploma and Tufts BFA and MFA students. Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions in the U.S. and internationally and is in the public collections of Boston Public Library.

Sarah Arnold of Harvard graduated cum laude from Harvard College in 1989 and has an M.A. in elementary education from Lesley University. For eight years, she taught fifth grade in Weston, spent years teaching the gifted and talented program in Nevada and taught sixth-grade math and science in Boxborough.

In 2000, she was involved in the founding of a Waldorf early childhood program, Evergreen Garden Playschool, in Devens. That sparked Arnold’s interest in Waldorf education, and she pursued an M.A. in Waldorf early childhood education from Sunbridge Institute. In 2004, Arnold joined the staff of Evergreen, becoming a lead teacher and director. She is certified at the Director II level by the state Department of Early Education and Care. Beginning this fall, she will be enrolled full time at Boston University in the doctor of education in developmental studies program.

Jennifer Breneisen of Medford is a licensed independent clinical social worker with private practice in Arlington. She has more than 15 years of experience working with children, adolescents and their families.

Breneisen has both clinical and administrative experience in public and therapeutic school settings, was the program director for a therapeutic after-school program, and also has extensive experience in community settings. Jennifer received her B.A. from Drake University, and her MSW from Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.

Ramya Krishnamurthy of Lexington is a financial-services professional with 14-plus years of diverse experience in IT project management, technology consulting, contract administration, vendor and risk management. She is employed as a tech program Manager for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where she has worked for the past 13 years.

She is proficient in wealth-management product technology and is responsible for the management of multimillion-dollar technology programs. She has an MBA from Xavier's Institute of Management (India) and a B.S. in electrical engineering from Madras University (India).

Heather Sauceda Hannon of Medford is an urban planner doing transportation planning research for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Previously, she worked in transportation planning at the state Department of Transportation, and in campus master planning and urban design at UMass./Boston and Harvard University.

She has a degree in architecture from Princeton University and an M.A. in urban planning from Harvard University. In Medford, she has been on the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee and on the board of the Medford Farmers' Market.

Wirun Limsawart of Belmont is a Ph.D. candidate in social anthropology at Harvard University. He is a physician of the Thai Ministry of Public Health who has worked eight years in southern Thailand as a general practitioner, hospital director and activist. He is an executive member of the Rural Doctor Society, a national network of physician-activists working to ensure accessibility and quality of medical care for poor rural populations.

He earned a master's degree in medical anthropology from Harvard University in 2012. His current research focuses on professional caregiving, professionalism, health bureaucracy, and human rights.

Mary Ross of Lexington has served as an assistant district attorney for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and fought for the educational rights of children as a staff attorney for MetroWest Legal Services. A Waldorf parent, Ross has been active at the Waldorf School of Lexington, where her son has attended for the past decade.

Amy Shinerock of Medford studied art at Bard College in the School of Visual Arts and received her M.A. from City College of New York. She studied brush painting and ceramics in Japan and has worked in her own studio for 30 years.

She has participated in her children's Waldorf education, volunteering in the kindergarten and the nursery, and she started the school store for the Great Barrington Waldorf School.

Laurel Shinerock of Medford expects to complete her M.A. degree at the MGH Institute of Health Professions and was seeking licensure as a speech-language pathologist and a reading specialist this summer. She plans to work as a bilingual speech-language pathologist in an elementary school.

Before graduate school, she worked for seven years as a program manager for households of adults with developmental disabilities. She attended Waldorf schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and completed her bachelor's degree in linguistic anthropology and bilingual education at Brown University.

Robert Shinerock of Medford has spent most of his career in private enterprise. He has more than 30 years' experience working in film production and development, commercial interior design and energy conservation.

Before retiring in 2002, he spent five years as a teacher within independent Waldorf schools in New Hampshire. He has a B.A. from California State University, Los Angeles, and a teacher certificate from Rudolf Steiner College in Sacramento.


Key Design Principles & Goals

Listed in school proposal

Great River is built on 10 design principles drawn from Expeditionary Learning and Waldorf insights. These reflect our articulated beliefs about children, education and our shared values.

1. SERVICE AND COMPASSION We are crew, not passengers. Students and teachers are strengthened by
acts of consequential service to others, and one of Great River’s primary functions is to prepare
students with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service.
Measureable goal: Service will be an integral part of the Crew Curriculum.

2. DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative
power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others. The school and learning groups are
heterogeneous and reflective of all demographics of the school's specified region.
Measureable goal: Our student population will be reflective of the communities we serve.

3. THE NATURAL WORLD A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the
human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students
learn to become stewards of the earth and of future generations. Local agriculture and ecosystems
will serve as studies for inspiring innovation towards a healthier and more sustainable planet.
Measurable goals:

x A study of the natural world will be incorporated into daily and weekly lessons and
the culminating learning expeditions for each grade.
x Interim and culminating assessments will include the topic of stewardship.
x Time outdoors will be built into the schedule of the school day.

4. SOLITUDE AND REFLECTION Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, 

make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need to exchange their
reflections with other students and with adults. Along with the outward expressions of the child,
the recognition and consideration of the inner life of the human being is essential aspect to
Waldorf methods.

Measureable goals:

x Teachers will be given protected time during the school day for reflecting upon their
x Teachers will be provided with professional development that aids in the development
of a thoughtful, reflective practice.
x Homework will be limited to allow students ample time outside the school day for
reflection and to digest the learning of the school day.

5. THE PRIMACY OF SELF-DISCOVERY AND RISK-TAKING Learning happens best with emotion, challenge and 

the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in
situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. At Great River, students undertake tasks that
require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant
achievement. We build confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult
challenges. Waldorf education posits that the child “learns by doing.”

Measurable goals:

x Habits of scholarship will be assessed separately from knowledge and skills.
x ‘Hands on’ learning will be an integral part of our school wide curriculum.

6. THE HAVING OF WONDERFUL IDEAS Teaching at Great River strives to foster curiosity about the 

world by creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to
experiment, and time to observe and to deepen understanding of what is observed.
Measurable goal: The structure given to our curriculum (main lesson blocks and
learning expeditions) will be designed to ignite student curiosity and allow students to study one
topic in depth over time.

7. THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR LEARNING AND COLLABORATION Learning is both a personal process of
discovery and a social activity. Individual development and group development are integrated so
that the values of friendship, trust, and group action are clear. Great River strives for both
children and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and
collective learning.

Measurable goals:

x Crew curriculum will include the study of friendship, trust and group action.
x Self-assessment will be explicitly taught and implemented starting in grade three.


in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is
mutual trust and meaningful relationships. Every child will have a caring adult, in the form of
their main teacher, looking after their progress and acting as an advocate. Older students mentor
younger ones, and students feel physically and emotionally safe. Looping (organized by grades 1-3,
grades 4-6, and grades 7-8) strengthens the relationships between teachers and students, students
and students, and teachers and families, allowing for greater and more meaningful support
in the learning process.

Measurable goals:

x Faculty council will be structured to honor teacher voice in school wide decisions.
x Teachers will be given freedom to craft individual daily lessons that align with the
short and long term learning targets for their grade level.
x Teachers will loop with students for two-three years.
x A mentoring program will be established as enrollment grows.

9. DEVELOPMENTALLY-APPROPRIATE INSTRUCTION At Great River, we value Waldorf insights into the 

developmental arc of children. We meet children where they are in their development with
appropriate content delivered with developmentally-appropriate methods. Our community is organized
around a daily, monthly, and seasonal rhythm that provides security to young children and weaves
the diversity of the work we do and the diversity of who we are together in a beautiful way. We
honor the rhythm of the school year and the rhythm of the developing child.

Measurable goals:

x Curriculum, instruction and discipline will be delivered in a developmentally
appropriate manner.
x Seasonal rhythms will be reflected in curriculum and celebrated through festivals.

10. DEPTH & BREADTH OF ACHIEVEMENT Students are encouraged to set challenging goals for themselves 

with rigorous standards of excellence. Achievement is defined in broad and deep ways (Mastery of
Knowledge and Skills, Student Character, High Quality Work), and students are challenged
to deepen their learning and broaden their ways of knowing.

Measurable goals:

x Achievement will be measured in accordance with Expeditionary
Learning’s three fold view of student achievement.
x Self-assessment will be a core piece of our whole school assessment process starting
in the later grades.
x High standards for all students will be set and progress towards these standards will

be assessed using formative and summative assessments. 

Related links

Sept. 15, 2015: Group of students sues to lift state charter school cap
Waldorf education
Greater Boston Waldorf Charter Initiative 
Alliance for Public Waldorf Education

This report was published Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015.