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Charter growth continues in Rochester 

More charter schools are poised to open in the City of Rochester. The Rochester school board held a public hearing recently for Exploration Elementary Charter School for Science and Technology. And the State Education Department is reviewing an application for Rochester Charter School for Applied Technology. Locations for both haven't been selected yet.

Exploration Elementary should open for kindergarten and first grade in 2016, pending final approval from State Ed. The school would eventually grow to a kindergarten through third-grade school with about 475 students.

Rochester Charter would open in August 2016 with a lower grade, and eventually serve kindergarten to grade 12.

Both Exploration and Rochester Charter would emphasize science, math, and technology, representatives say, but still include music and the arts. Some attempts to open science and technology schools locally and nationally, however, either as charters or traditional public schools, haven't gone well, partly from a lack of enrollment.

click to enlarge An expansion is planned for True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • An expansion is planned for True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School.

"We're not trying to make little scientists out of them," says Kevin Williams, a spokesperson for Exploration Elementary. "We believe that scientific inquiry can to lead to all kinds of things. It opens the mind."

Williams says that cultivating an early interest in science is critical.

"People understand that trying to start a school like this later for students without any experience in science and technology is hard," Williams says. "We believe there is a natural curiosity in students at a young age."

If the two STEM-oriented charters are approved, it would increase the number of charter schools in Monroe County from 14 to 16. Two of the schools are located in Greece, but most are in the Rochester City School District. And Joe Klein, founder of E3Rochester, says that there are at least two more in the pipeline for the city. (E3 identifies exceptional charter schools around the country and tries to emulate them in the City of Rochester.)

"Our goal is every child in Rochester deserves a great education," Klein says. And he doesn't mince words about the failures of the Rochester school district or its board at meeting that standard.

Klein says he hopes that when parents have plenty of options for high-quality charter schools and more parents and students leave the district, public education in Rochester will reach a tipping point. The district will be forced to improve, he says.

Rochester schools superintendent Bolgen Vargas has warned on several occasions that charter and private schools are causing a steady enrollment decline in city schools.

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