Early in his career as a middle school teacher in Philadelphia Travis Works realized the best way for a child to achieve success was to provide them what they need when they need it. Although most of the education research encouraged that, it not practiced in the school. The system was built to sustain the status quo of standardized curriculum and assessments. As a teacher and principal, Travis was frustrated, “There is only so much change you can actually make in middle management” when status quo defines the culture. Travis returned to his hometown of Skowhegan after completing graduate studies in education and was eager to effect changes.
Almost ten years into his position, we hear how this remarkable educator has created a district that challenges our notion of school. Rather than assembly of buildings, The Community Regional Charter school provides a unique approach to learning by reimagining the schools relationship with the larger community. Community Regional Charter School has been recognized nationally as a proven a catalyst for community rebirth. Here are only a few of the highlights from the discussion:
- CRCS offers all students customized learning informed, but not dominated by curriculum compacting or differentiated learning.
- Realizing between 60% – 80% of enrolled children qualify for free and reduced lunch, CRCS food service contracts with 10 to 15 local farms in the region. Farm-to table meals provides quality most families cannot afford. The food services provides meals to the community at large.
- As a public charter school, CRCW it is prohibited from accessing state education facilities funding. Creatively leveraging low-cost commercial loans from local lending institutions with scarce philanthropic dollars, CRCS renovated a deteriorating structure in downtown Skowhegan to function as its high school. This historic renovation serves as both anchor and catalyst for downtown redevelopment. “Our schools is the heart of the community.”
- CRCS teacher salaries are on par with local districts as are contributory benefit plans.
- CRCS leverages its staff to provide extended day to accommodate childcare needs of many of the community’s working families who could not otherwise provide quality day care.
Being thrifty, the schools primary focus is to drive more taxpayer dollars to instruction and at the same time create an infrastructure that benefits the entire community. Speaking more like a politician, Travis points out, “70% of Maine’s property taxes support education yet in typical districts, directly benefitting only the children and families attending the school. Incorporating after-school programs, CTE offerings as well as programs for adults to continue their learning, CRCW turns those tax dollars from an expense to an investment.”
The Community Regional Charter School and Travis Works serve as yet another model for what schools can be in Maine.