First Online Charter School in Maine Opens Virtual Doors

The first online charter school for the state of Maine, Maine Connections Academy, has finally opened, delivering a new option for the state’s students who do not benefit from traditional schooling.

The academy opened its doors in South Portland, where teachers and administrators will meet and communicate with more than 290 students online.  The school offers “live lessons” and teachers who will continuously watch students, offering periodic feedback throughout the day.

According to principal Karl Francis, the school is needed within the state.

“People come to us for a wide variety of reasons,” he told attendees of the event, held outside the academy headquarters in an office building on South Portland’s John Roberts Road near the Maine Mall. “Some of them are home-schooled students. … Some of them need more flexible scheduling. Some of them have medical problems.”

Francis discussed one student who, as a professional golfer, had obligations making a traditional school schedule difficult to follow.  Other students have social anxiety issues.

Maine Governor Paul LePage used the opportunity to criticize the state’s traditional public school system, saying its “about the money” and “union contracts” and are not focused on the needs of the children whom they are meant to serve.

“We’ve done everything we can [to improve schools],” LePage said. “We’ve tried to work with the education system. We’ve tried to embarrass the education system. We’ve argued with the education system.”

The head of the state’s largest teacher’s union, the Maine Education Association, retorted to the governor’s “constant attacks” on association members by saying:

“I truly question why the governor would want to embarrass our public schools on purpose,” MEA Executive Director Rob Walker said. “His admission today proves he does not have the best interest of our students or schools in mind when he proposes legislation.”

The introduction of the charter school was met with opposition this summer from multiple school districts that were billed $7,000 per child who enrolled in the online school.  Many districts were not able to accurately estimate the number of students they would lose to the new school, as geography did not factor into student enrollment.

Chairwoman of the Maine Connections Academy board Amy Volk said the board would work with local school officials to find an answer to the funding problem.

Maine Connections Academy cannot enroll more than 297 students, a number which it is expected to reach soon.  There are currently 175 families on the waiting list.

“The goal at the end of the day is to educate the student, so one size does not fit all — never did, never will. So we have to be open-minded. We have to be willing to challenge the status quo. We have to be willing to try things, to look beyond our reaches to see if and when there are opportunities that we can include,” LePage said Thursday.