For an institution that isn’t even open yet, the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science has certainly engendered a remarkable amount of controversy.
There were the dueling lawsuits that pitted the board of the nascent charter school against its fired founder in 2012; earlier this summer, Baxter found itself in the middle of a partisan scuffle between the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, Democratic state senate president Justin Alfond, Republican governor Paul LePage, and a wealthy Democratic funder. The board recently launched a $10,000 IndieGoGo campaign, further blurring the lines between education and entrepreneurship.
Then in August, Baxter failed to pass two building inspections, necessary to receive the occupancy permit required to open as scheduled on September 4. The building on York Street, which is more than 100 years old, will undergo its third inspection on Wednesday, August 28 — one week before the first day of school. The school’s original agreement with the Maine Charter School Commission stated that renovations must have been completed by 30 days prior to opening, and that an occupancy permit was required 15 days prior to the first day of classes. The commission has evidently decided to be flexible with regard to these deadlines.
School officials have said all outstanding issues, including some related to the fire code, have been addressed. Baxter has passed a separate fire inspection, says interim chief operating officer Adam Burk.
Despite all this, Burk claims “we’ve stayed focused on what we’re doing . . . creating a meaningful educational experience for kids who might not otherwise have one.”
The Academy, which will focus specifically on science, technology, engineering, and math (so-called STEM subjects), will be one of five public charter schools in Maine. Two others are already open — the Cornville Regional Charter School and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley — and two others are also slated for September openings — the Fiddlehead School of Arts and Sciences in Gray (which will adhere to the Reggio Emilia philosophy of creative expression and student-guided learning) and the Harpswell Coastal Academy, which “will utilize the ocean, wetlands and farmlands as a central aspect of the school’s resources.”
Regardless of whether you appreciate or disparage the concept of charter schools, the fact remains that about 130 freshmen and sophomores, from 30 different towns, plan to show up for the first day of class Wednesday (if the school passes its final inspection, that is). Here’s a little of what they’ll find:
--A recent tour of the school building on York Street (which formerly housed MediaPower) revealed super-bright painted walls, which Burk describes as “enlivening the space.” The engineering lab on the first floor is purple; two upstairs classrooms are a vivid shade of magenta; the chemistry lab is teal. Parse the color psychology of those choices at your leisure.
--Desks and classroom furniture (from Ikea) will be modular and adaptable to different learning situations.
--There’s no cafeteria in the space. The school has reached an agreement with Mr. Bagel, which will provide boxed lunches to Baxter students.
--Mondays through Thursdays at Baxter Academy will follow a relatively familiar alternating-classes schedule — with 80 minutes of lunch/unstructured time built in — but the administration is excited about Flex Fridays, described on the school’s IndieGoGo page as
“one entire day carved out of the school week and devoted to large-scale, real-world problems. These problems will allow students to apply in tangible ways the knowledge and skills they’ve gained in the classroom the rest of the week.” According to Burk, one student already plans to design and build a tiny house during her Flex Friday time.