MAIN STREET JOURNAL – When celebrating Marlborough, and all the city has to offer its residents and visitors, the variety of available educational options certainly stands out. The relative newcomer to the collection of schools located in Marlborough is the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School (AMSA), which was recently ranked as the number two public high school in the Commonwealth by US News & World Report.
Turning off Forest Avenue onto the campus of AMSA, visitors may be surprised to learn that the school has been housed in former office buildings since its opening in 2005. AMSA serves students in grades six through twelve, with an enrollment of just under 1,000 students. The teacher-to-student ratio is thirteen-to-one. A private sports facility next door, Forekicks, provides needed space for physical education classes and sports teams, as well as occasional all-school community meetings.
It all began in February 2004, when an application was sent to the Massachusetts Department of Education, citing the need for a charter school that would focus on math, science and technology, reflective of the demands of local industry. Following state approval, AMSA opened its doors in September 2005 to just sixth and seventh grades, adding a grade level each year as the classes progressed, finally reaching sixth through twelfth grades in year six.
AMSA is part of the Massachusetts public school system, and the state provides funding on a per-student basis. Parents do not pay tuition. Unlike other public schools, however, the school, with its parents and benefactors, must raise their own capital for projects like expansions.
It is important to note that a prospective student’s grades do not factor into the admissions process even though the school stresses an accelerated math and science curriculum. Students are admitted strictly on a lottery basis. Each application is given a unique number and seats are filled on a space-available basis according to preset capacity criteria.
Siblings of current AMSA students are given higher priority, and applicants from the school’s four core towns, Marlborough-Hudson-Maynard-Clinton, are chosen next. If a class is not filled at this point, applications from outside the core towns are then available to the lottery process. Any remaining applicants after the classes are full are placed on a wait list. Accepted students then begin the rest of the registration process, providing transcripts, proof of residency, and taking placement tests to determine schedules.
One other factor impacting AMSA enrollment is the spending cap imposed by the state which limits the number of students who may be accepted from any given city or town. Currently, the cap is nine percent. In essence, this means that AMSA may not have within its total enrollment more than nine percent of students from any community. This year, AMSA was unable to accept any Marlborough students because it is at the nine percent maximum. The cap is revisited every year.
Speaking about AMSA’s student population, Principal Ellen Linzey stated, “Our classes are made up of students from all backgrounds, encompassing all socio-economic strata, with all abilities. We do not teach to the state standards. We go above and beyond them, with the belief that all students can handle the advanced curriculum. Our teachers just do a really great job, and there is support for those that need it.”
The school performs assessments in reading and math, as well as ELL screening for services, but only after acceptance. Students who score in the low range can be identified for more support, and their class schedules will reflect that. “We also have literacy specialists to help students who are struggling,” said Linzey.
Mark Vital is a sixth grade English teacher who also serves as the school’s Community Outreach Manager. “I just believe that every kid can reach the bar and our bar is higher than most,” he said. “I pump them up with pride that they can do it, and the pride keeps building. By tenth grade, the foundation is solid, and they soar through the MCAS.” In fact, one-hundred percent of tenth grade students have scored Proficient or Advanced on the English Language Arts MCAS test for several years in a row.
The school offers sixteen AP classes as well as seven accelerated courses which require an AP course as a prerequisite. The Class of 2018 boasts twenty-six Advanced Placement (AP) Scholar Awards, and ten National Merit Scholars.
US News & World Report has ranked AMSA as the fifty-first STEM school in the country, the thirty-seventh Charter school in the country, and the second highest school in Massachusetts. The magazine ranks schools based on their performance on state-required tests and how well they prepare students for college.
The successes have not all been contained to academics, however. AMSA is a member of the MIAA (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association) and competes in Divisions 3 and 4 of the Colonial Athletic League. Offering twenty-three varsity sports, there is something for everyone, and the teams have achieved district-level play in many sports. The school has forty-four clubs to choose from, a robotics team, a math team, and has had students perform well on the WBGH Quiz Bowl.
Recently, the administrative team formed Focus Groups comprised of parents, teachers, students, and community members to determine the core values of the school, addressing the whole person, not just test scores. The three values chosen are: Model Integrity; Pursue Your Excellence; and Foster Community. All three are meant for the school as well as for the individual students to embody.
Vital mentors a student group called Leaders of Tomorrow that take on community projects. “I plant the seed and then the students run with it,” he said. “They’re learning true leadership skills which are transferrable to anything they do later in life.”
In recent news about the school, AMSA announced its purchase of ‘the white building’ adjacent to their property, which will allow more room for classrooms and meeting rooms. The plans for expansion can be seen on the school website, www.amsacs.org, under the AMSA Reimagined tab.
“We want to become part of the community, as opposed to being cloistered over here,” said Linzey. “Our doors are open, and we invite people to come visit and take a tour.”
Shown (l-r) in picture working in a laboratory are tenth grade students Essiet Ette, Anusha Purushothaman, and Inbar Artzi.
This article by Cindy Zomar originally appeared here.