Generally, high schools today evoke stark similarities to their predecessors dating sixty-plus years. They are organized by the chronological age of students, promote a hierarchical governance system, compartmentalize subject disciplines, denote advancement by seat time, and are characterized by the inflexibility of rules, procedures, and policies as they pertain to all students. We are confronted with the question – “Is this model of education working for all students and for our communities?” The research clearly demonstrates that it is not. We therefore have an obligation to seek a complementary model for some students.
Derry is uniquely prepared to offer students a choice with regard to their education in the format of establishing a charter high school. A K-8 system, the Derry Cooperative School District (DCSD) contractually tuitions students to Pinkerton Academy, the largest independent academy in the United States, serving 3,100 students from multiple local communities. The DCSD Board recognized that “one size does not fit all” as applied to learning models and that many students complete high school in a manner in which they are under-served. Therefore, to assist their mission, members engaged to formally explore a complementary system to public high school education beginning in the fall of 2012.
In collaboration with the DCSD Board, Mary Ellen Hannon, former Superintendent of Schools for the DCSD, organized a District team to develop a charter concept and draft a charter application to the NH State Board of Education. In addition, the voters of Derry approved the DCSD Board to explore the formation of a charter high school in a warrant article on 3.13.12. After a formal presentation in Concord, Next received authorization from the NH State Board of Education on 6.20.12. Considering the fact that the DCSD maintained a vacant facility and the New Hampshire Department of Education secured monetary resources to assist in charter start-up, the timing was both pragmatic and fortuitous to create another pathway for high school students that complements the existing traditional, public education system and draws upon current research and thinking targeting how and why we learn.
As an authorized public charter school, we are indebted to the many visits and conversations with other New Hampshire charter school leaders throughout our start-up process. A particular mention is made to the students at Great Bay eLearning Charter School, who hosted us and spoke directly to the impact of charter on their lives.
We are eager to see the outcomes a public-public partnership can provide for the students of New Hampshire. As a complement to the existing public education system, Next intends to act as one model among many successful models that meet the needs of students and their communities.