The city’s most unusual school is looking to expand, and it’s got a well-placed fan in state government.
“I love the location, the facility and how it’s laid out, the open concept, the fluidity. It works as a great learning environment,” New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said after visiting the Capital City Charter School, which started last year in the former Bon-Ton’s department store in the Steeplegate Mall.
The school will be going before the state Board of Education later this month asking to have its charter amended so that it can teach children in grades 10 through 12, as well as the current range of sixth through ninth grade.
“When we started, our plan was to grow to six through 12 within five years,” said Stephanie C. Alicea, the school’s founder and head. “We want to make sure we have approval right now, because we are getting inquiries for high school students.”
Edelblut, a big proponent of charter schools, said he visited Capital City for the first time last week because he tries to visit such schools whenever they seek to change their charter.
“I make a point of going out and visiting the school. I’m trying to have a little bit more thoughtful engagement, so if questions come up, I might help answer them,” he said.
The visit came before last week’s political controversy over federal funding for charter schools in the state. The state’s rejection of additional funding for charter schools would likely have no effect on the Capital City Charter School’s request to expand.
New Hampshire has 29 charter schools. Edelblut said requests to modify these charters are not common and are usually spurred by a desire to expand.
Alicea, who was a teacher for two decades, started Capital City Charter School in the fall of 2018 to allow small classes with a focus on service learning. She had been looking for a location when the Bon-Ton store closed and the mall leased it to her since no other department store was likely to move in – since then, another retail anchor, the Sears store, has announced it will close soon.
As a result, the school has a whopping 34,408 square feet available for the current enrollment of 44 students. That includes upstairs space which the school hasn’t used yet. The school’s charter allows as many as 330 students.
Capital City Charter School has four teachers plus Alicea. The bulk of its students come from Concord but it also draws from as far north as Belmont and as far east as New Durham, she said.
Many of the students have had trouble adjusting to traditional school environments and come for the small classes as well as the focus on learning through doing, including internships.
“We’re slowly growing. The concept of the school is new and different, and parents and students have to be willing to come in with an open mind. They have to understand the models of service learning,” she said.
“We have a pretty big class of ninth-graders currently, about half from last year and the rest transferred in this year. … If more and more students are interested, we may have to get more staff,” Alicea said, noting that they just added the fourth teacher, who will handle P.E. and health classes and programs for older students.
“Having 12 to 15 students per classroom is the goal,” she said.
Alicea said the school’s monthly operating expenses run from $23,000 to $30,000, depending on purchases. (“Start-up costs can be heavy,” she noted.) The budget is covered through a mix of fees, grants and donations, including many donations in kind.