Academy of Dover hopes to add sixth grade

DOVER — There are a lot of benefits that come with being a small school — and the Academy of Dover Charter School is hoping to offer that to an additional grade, said Michele Marinucci, head of school.

“It became loud and clear when I came on board and, in talking to our students and our parents, that was something they desperately wanted,” she said. “They love the small atmosphere our school provides, small class sizes, all the extra perks.”

The charter school is up for another public hearing Wednesday, before it goes before the state board of education on March 19 to modify its charter.

The current facility has the ability to hold another grade. Dr. Marinucci said, depending on enrollment, the school would need to add additional staff.

“We’re committed to keeping small class sizes,” she added.

The school, serving grades kindergarten through five, currently has 265 students enrolled. Its charter allows for 300 students at this time, and the expansion would extend that to 330.

“We’re planning to be full. We’ve got the vast majority of our families saying that they plan to stay with us,” she said. “We’ve had a massive turnout of choice applications; we’re still getting them.”

During February’s hearing, parents and staff members came out to voice support for adding the extra grade. Kimeu Boynton, board president for the Academy of Dover Charter School, noted that it would give the school a competitive edge.

“Every year we have parents that are pleased with the educational outcomes of their students when they get to fifth grade,” he said at the hearing. “And the one sole wish is ‘I wish I could keep them at AOD for one more year before they start middle school.’ So that’s very important to us.”

Charles Fletcher, a member of the board, agreed that the additional grade would be competitive. He added that, years ago, the school decided “not to continue with the sixth grade.”

“Now it is the parents that are a part of the program. And we listen to them a little more keenly,” he said. “And it is their efforts that desire us to go toward sixth grade. They are very happy with what we are doing with the school, the academic performance of their youngsters. And we’re very happy with the role that we’re playing in the community.”

In her remarks at the hearing, Dr. Marinucci noted that 86% of the students come from Capital School District. With the current configuration, students attend William Henry for one year after their time at AOD, she said.

She also acknowledged the school has historically faced enrollment and retention difficulties, but AOD is maintaining the status quo for enrollment and saw 50 applications between August and the end of September.

The charter school opened its doors in 2003; Dr. Marinucci came on board in August of last year. With her background in special education as a teacher and director, she said she has a strong focus on social-emotional learning.

The school has longer a school year and longer school days, which have students receiving two hours of English/language arts instruction with 30 minutes of extended reading, an hour of math with 30 minutes extended, an hour of arts and science and social studies, as well as recess.

This year, the school also rolled out more programming. Music classes were brought back this year on a smaller scale, thanks to a volunteer, but next year, music will be offered to all students. AOD also added a print shop, where students will be able to make T-shirts, banners and signs, she said.

Dr. Marinucci noted that the school worked with a group of students when discussing expanding the charter for the school to include sixth grade, and some expressed concern over the lack of sports.

The student-led initiative, which included a survey, has added cheerleading and basketball. She said the school is looking to add more sports next year and to compete with other schools.

In the future, she would like to see their charter extend to include seventh and eighth grade. Adding those future grades, though, would require an expansion or a new facility, which is why the school didn’t include it this year, she said.

“We’re all about listening to our kids and parents and doing everything we can to grow youth into everything they can be,” she said.