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Educators hope to launch new public charter school in St. Lawrence County

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POTSDAM — A group of St. Lawrence County educators is surveying the public to explore whether there’s enough interest in starting a public charter school.

The idea is very preliminary at this point, said Ginger S. Thomas, a former Heuvelton Central School District teacher who runs Teacher’s Desk Consultants, an education consultant business in DeKalb Junction.

A new public charter school would have to be approved and funded by the state Education Department before it could be launched.

“This might be another alternative. We think for some students, this would be ideal,” Ms. Thomas said Tuesday.

The idea of a public charter school has gained steam among some teachers who attend the annual constructivist conference held each summer at St. Lawrence University. The conference draws teachers from throughout the state who brainstorm ways to incorporate the constructivist teaching method into their curriculum.

A public charter school receives state funding and does not charge tuition. A private charter school charges tuition.

Some public charter schools exist in Albany and New York City, but at this point there are none in Northern New York.

A public survey will help determine if a public charter school is worth pursuing. The next step is to submit a request for proposals to the state Edu

Education Department.

“Everything is really up in the air. This might not go anywhere if the state won’t approve it,” Ms. Thomas said. “We’re just throwing it out there to see if there is a bite. We feel there is an interest and a need.”

Approximately 10 teachers from different St. Lawrence County communities started meeting a month ago to discuss the idea.

Teachers would use the constructivist method, which involves presenting a problem to students and allowing them to use multiple resources to prepare a presentation or project.

Instead of relying mostly on lectures, students would be involved in more hands-on activities, field trips and projects that utilize technology.

Giving an example, teaching about the Adirondack Mountains could involve asking students to create a movie. They would be responsible for writing a script, taking photographs and video and doing the research. A trip to The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, could be included. The Common Core standards being implemented at schools across the nation would be covered in a public charter school, Ms. Thomas said.

“The constructivist method fits in well with the Common Core standards,” she said. “The new standards are asking students to use their skills in more useful ways.”

Tentative plans call for enrolling about 25 students in the school and hiring two teachers to teach grades 7,8 and 9. Depending on interest and funding, those numbers and grade levels could be expanded.

Ms. Thomas said the new charter school could be housed in rented space at one of the public school districts or at one of the area colleges. A location has not yet been chosen.

Organizers don’t want to detract from what’s happening at public schools, she said.

“We don’t want to conflict with what they’re doing, we just want to provide another option,” Ms. Thomas said.

The survey is available at www.slvalleytech.com

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