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For new charter arts academy in Derry, fundraising is the key

Union Leader Correspondent

September 10. 2013 9:22PM

DERRY — Following a successful open house over the weekend, the Granite State Arts Academy is now focusing on the future — and fundraising.

Dozens of curious parents attended the charter school open house on Saturday at its proposed location, 16 Route 111, Building 4.

“We had a lot of enthusiasm in the room,” said Wendie Leweck, the school’s chairman. “We had a long Q and A and a lot of parents asking questions.”

It’s understandable parents would have questions to pose to Leweck as the school was just approved by the Board of Education on Aug. 19. The arts academy was the fourth charter school to be approved this summer after the Board of Education lifted a moratorium on new charter schools in New Hampshire.

The academy will serve grades nine through 12, beginning in August 2014. The school will have a maximum enrollment at 160 students, or 40 per grade, she said. If enrollment exceeds available spots, a waiting list will be formed and a lottery system used as openings occur.Along with a core curriculum, the school will offer four major areas of the arts: dance, music (including voice), theater and visual arts.

After attending the open house, parent Jo Riopel said she was impressed by the school’s nontraditional approach to learning.

“I’m very blown away by the creativity,” Riopel said. “It gets the kids thinking outside of the box.”

As examples of the different learning style, she said students would collaborate on projects in math and other academic areas such as public speaking.Students also wouldn’t be “held back” and if they succeeded in a course, would be able to advance to that grade level. She gave an example of a student who is in the ninth grade but is capable of doing 11th-grade math. With the new approach, the student would be allowed to take 11th-grade math, Riopel said.

“Kids want to do more; they want to be challenged,” Riopel said. “They are excited about learning.”

After holding an open house on Saturday, and one last month, the school must focus on securing critical federal funding, Leweck said. As a charter school, the arts academy will need to raise a lot more money to fund the school’s start-up costs.

“We absolutely need more money,” Leweck said. “There’s a huge difference for what we are given per pupil and what it costs to educate a pupil.”

Of the approximate $12,000 annual cost of educating a student, the school receives about $5,500 per pupil from the state. The remaining balance of federal money, however, doesn’t follow the student to the charter school but goes to the public school within the district that the student would have attended, she said.

To help make up the difference and pay for start-up costs, the school is applying for a federal grant of approximately $500,000, Leweck said. The grant would go to pay for leasing the location and other start-up costs.

But even if it is awarded the grant, the school will still need to raise more money to meet other educational costs. The arts academy will be turning to philanthropists and organizations that “share a like-minded vision,” Leweck said.

It will also be exploring more creative fundraising methods, such as holding an art auction or a concert in the park.

“We aren’t a traditional school,” Leweck said. “We don’t have a football team. We need to get creative in other ways to cut corners and educate a pupil.”

Those interested in serving on the school’s board of trustees can download a form and find more information at

Education Derry

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