Lewiston charter school up for hearing Feb. 7

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PORTLAND — Two men proposing to build the first taxpayer-supported charter school in Lewiston-Auburn said despite published reports, the Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School would not be a Turkish “Gulen” school or have any ties to “Gulen” schools.

“We have no direct connection with Gulen; it’s a misconception,” said Tarlan Ahmadov, the prime applicant proposing the school.

Huseyin A. Kara, a board member of the proposed charter school who is involved with a charter school in Massachusetts, agreed.

“It’s a Maine public charter school. That’s it,” Kara said Tuesday. “There’s no affiliation, no partnership whatsoever with any group.” The charter school would “provide a choice for families who believe the high school or the middle school around the corner is not the best fit for their children,” Kara said.

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Several published reports in and outside Maine have said the proposed Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School has ties to the Gulen network, followers of Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, according to Wikipedia.

A movement in his name includes schools around the country. A New York Times report about Gulen charter schools in Texas raised questions about whether the schools are using taxpayer money to benefit Gulen teachings. The Muslim theologian believes in science, interfaith dialogue and multi-party democracy, according to Wikipedia.

The misconception occurred because Kara is Turkish, Ahmadov said, and Turkish Americans are involved with his Massachusetts charter school. Kara is helping the proposed Lewiston school “because he has good experience and vision. That’s important,” Ahmadov said.

Bob Kautz of the Maine Charter Commission said Tuesday the question of the Gulen network has been raised and the proponents have said they are not affiliated. The commission could find no evidence of a connection, Kautz said. The proposed charter school has won the commission’s first round of approval; the next step is more review and a public hearing from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, at Central Maine Community College

The commission will vote March 4 on whether to approve the school.

As proposed, the Lewiston school would be modeled after the Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett, Mass., which has been reviewed and approved by the state of Massachusetts, Kautz said.

The proposed Lewiston school would focus on high expectations for students, teachers and parents; it would be a prep school focusing on science and math, Ahmadov and Kara said.

As proposed, the Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School would open in September to 180 students in grades 7-9, with 60 students in each grade level, 20 students per class. The school would have a student-teacher ratio of 13-to-1, Ahmadov said.

There would be no tuition because Maine charter schools, approved by Gov. Paul LePage’s Administration, would use state and local taxpayer money to support students, which would amount to about $10,000 per student. That would mean less money for school departments the students now attend, since state and local education money follows the students.

In four years, the school would grow to hold 360 students in grades 7-12, said Ahmadov, who works as a program manager for Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services.

To get the money to build a physical school, Ahmadov and Kara said they’re working with the Charter Schools Development Corp. in Washington, D.C.

“They’re going to buy the land, work with the construction company,” Kara said. That company would be in charge of the building. “We will be renting,” Ahmadov said.

The school building would be a modular, transported and put together in eight weeks. “It will be fast,” Ahmadov said. They have options on land, but they declined to say Tuesday where the school would be built.

Ahmadov said he was proposing a charter school to give families an alternative, “to give them another way for a better education. The charter school proposal has a deep science and math preparation. This is an important segment, especially in Lewiston-Auburn, where we need to have higher number of children in higher education. We want to make sure young adults to go university, have the best jobs, good skills. That’s my goal.”

Ahmadov’s work for Catholic Charities is based in Portland, and he frequently works in Lewiston.

After three big fires struck downtown Lewiston last spring, he worked in Lewiston every day in May, June and July as Catholic Charities helped fire victims. That experience showed him, Ahmadov said, that “we really need something for Lewiston-Auburn to help young adults go for the higher education.”

If the charter school is approved, students would wear uniforms, attend a longer school day and have a school year of 190 days. The minimum number of class instruction days in Maine is 175, by law.

Some charter school students would attend school on Saturdays to either catch up or work on projects, which is what happens at the Massachusetts charter school, Kara said.

Teachers would make home visits to go over student progress. Parents would be expected to be involved in their children’s education, and students would be expected to work hard, Kara said. There would be no teachers’ union; charter schools are not required to unionize, he said.

People from Maine have visited his Pioneer school, Kara said. “Our name is out there. We’re successful.” He showed test scores that illustrate Pioneer students have higher achievement than traditional public schools. Kara said he’s “the bridge” between the Massachusetts charter school and the proposed Lewiston school. “I’m here to implement the model in the new location.”

There would be no teaching of Islam or any religion, Kara said. “It’s a public school,” he said. “I believe in the separation of church and state.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Public hearing on proposed Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School

When: 4-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7

Where: Central Maine Community College, Auburn

Hosted by: Maine Charter School Commission. Members will interview charter school applicants from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 7 at CMCC. The interviews are open to the public.

The charter school commission will vote March 4 on whether to allow the L-A Academy Charter School to open in September to 180 students in grades 7-9; the school intends to eventually teach 360 students in grades 7-12.

For more information:  http://www.maine.gov/csc/

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