The move will help shorten a waitlist while putting the school on stronger economic footing, according to Executive Director Julia Bowen. The school applied for state approval in August and received it on Tuesday.
The enrollment cap on the Grades 6-through-12 school will increase from 308 to 363, which should to reduce a waiting list and even out enrollment.
Last year some 40 students who applied were not able to attend because of the enrollment cap. While the increase of 55 students would seem to eliminate that, Bowen said there are 30 percent more applicants this year than last.
"We had to limit our enrollment in sixth grade," Bowen said, because once the school accepts a student, he or she can continue into the upper grades. "We want to be able to smooth out the enrollment."
The increased number of students will not likely require the school to hire more teachers but it will increase class sizes. Currently classes are about 12 to 15 students but the additional children will require more councilors and paraprofessionals.
More students also means more money and the school will be looking to refinance its capital debt for a better interest rate and possibly a "modest" expansion. Bowen said the school currently has one room that serves as the gymnasium, cafeteria and auditorium and that school officials would like to build separate areas for those uses. The building had been an inn and restaurant before being transformed into offices and then the school.
"I'm not thinking about more kids, it is how we better serve the ones we have," Bowen said of the school's future growth.
The second part of the state approval was the expansion into Pittsfield. Bowen said the school has been seeing a decrease in the number of Northern Berkshire students while the number of Pittsfield students has increased. Enrollment into the school is by lottery and students from chartered areas have first dibs. Nearly half of waitlist last year was from Pittsfield, while 35 percent of enrolled students were from Pittsfield.
"We've been seeing more and more Pittsfield students," Bowen said, adding that half of the applications for next year are also from Pittsfield.
Including Pittsfield will give those students an equal chance at getting into the school. But the move will not exclude a higher number of Northern Berkshire students because of the enrollment increase, she said.
"In effect, it won't have a tremendous impact on Pittsfield or us," Bowen said. "It's a vote of confidence in our program."
The lengthy application included the argument that the program was good enough to expand, she said, so expanding is more of a compliment. If a municipality contributed more than 20 percent of the population to a charter school, the district must apply to expand it.
Pittsfield becomes the 10th municipality to be charted into the school — the others being Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesborough, North Adams, Savoy and Williamstown.
The charter renewal is in effect for the next school year and is good for five years.
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