Blackstone Valley Prep has received the go-ahead from state officials to continue operating for another five years and more than double the number of schools it runs around the state.
Blackstone Valley Prep, a charter school, currently operates two elementary schools in Cumberland and a middle school in Lincoln. Plans call for a high school to open this fall at a location still to be determined.
Under the group’s renewal, authorized this week by the State Board of Education, Blackstone Valley Prep will eventually operate seven schools in Rhode Island, serving 2,000 students.
Blackstone Valley Prep is what’s known as a “high performing” charter school, with a long school day and a heavy focus on college preparation, even in the elementary grades. The school has been controversial because of a special kind of charter known as a mayoral academy.
Mayoral academies are exempt from prevailing wage laws and do not contribute to the state retirement fund, an exceptional status that has raised the ire of teachers unions.
The school has also been controversial because of its highly structured educational model. Supporters point to stellar overall test scores and better-than-average performance among low-income students as proof that the model works. State officials recently named Blackstone Valley Prep's first elementary school a commended school, the highest ranking possible. However, a few parents pulled their children out of the school in its early years, complaining of a rigid atmosphere, which had a negative effect on their children.
Blackstone Valley Prep currently serves 770 students from Lincoln, Cumberland, Central Falls and Pawtucket. Another Mayoral Academy, run by the charter operator Achievement First, is slated to open next month in Providence. Achievement First will serve students from Providence, North Providence and Cranston and is also hoping to eventually expand to operate several schools in Rhode Island.