By Mike LaBella
---- — When students at teachers at Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School returned from February vacation, a surprise was waiting for them.
Teachers may have heard it through the grapevine, but hearing it announced officially on Monday was something they’d worked towards and were waiting for.
Principal Christopher Jayne announced Silver Hill’s charter was approved by the state for another five years. The school’s first five-year charter expires in June. Jayne said he was notified of the charter renewal by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last week. He said he notified Superintendent James Scully and members of the Silver Hill Board of Trustees.
“Everybody was relieved as it’s been a lot of hard work,” Jayne said. “The state came in for visits, they interviewed students, staff and parents, and there was a lot of paperwork involved.”
Silver Hill, a kindergarten to grade five school, was approved in 2008 to be a Horace Mann Charter School. Horace Mann charter schools are public schools, but they are overseen by a board of directors and the state Department of Education. The board, which has a role similar to the one the School Committee has with Haverhill’s other public schools, decides how to spend money and implements its own curriculum and teaching methods.
Silver Hill teachers are in the Haverhill teachers union, students take the MCAS each year, and the school follows the same schedule and discipline rules as other public schools in the city.
“Chris Jayne has done a tremendous job with the faculty and staff at Silver Hill in shaping a local school into a warm and productive environment where students have the opportunity to partake in some activities that we are not able to offer in the mainstream schools,” Scully said. “I am thrilled that the state has seen fit to renew their charter.”
Silver Hill operates with city teachers and city money, but also receives funding from the state. Students are selected by a lottery and enrollment is capped at 580.
Jayne said renewal of Silver Hill’s charter was based on a number of factors, including improved MCAS scores; parent satisfaction and support; attendance; and teachers’ agreement to renew the charter. He said it was mandatory that at least 80 percent of the school’s teachers agreed.
“One of the things our parents really like is that we offer five classes of all-day kindergarten with no tuition,” Jayne said. “What we’re creating is a learning community. One of the markers is attendance, which is extremely good. It tells you that parents value the school and that education is important to them.”
Silver Hill, a Title 1 school, receives federal money for its large percentage of students enrolled in the free or reduce-price lunch program. Silver Hill offers students the option of continuing to attend even if they move to another part of the city.
“They know our school and, even if they move, there is no change in their education,” Jayne said. “One of the unique things about our school is once you have a child in the building, other siblings can have a seat without having to go through the lottery process.”
Silver Hill holds an annual lottery for available seats. The lottery is open to all students in Haverhill.
Jayne said the reason Silver Hill applied for its initial charter was to make progress in its MCAS scores, and it has.
“We were a Level 3 school, which is a school that needs to show improvement, and now we’re a Level 1 school, which means we have shown growth and improvement in our MCAS scores,” he said. “The school has made steady progress over the last five years, which is something we hadn’t done in prior years.”
“In education, there is always work to be done,” he said. “I have great teachers and they’re up to the challenge.”
Silver Hill will hold this year’s lottery on Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m.