Mystic Valley Regional Charter School: An Education Apart

January 2012

The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, in Malden, was established in 1998 to provide parents in the communities of Malden, Melrose, Medford, Stoneham, Everett, and Wakefield with an alternative choice in public education. "The vision of the school's founders was one in which every child would be given the opportunity for a world-class education in a structured, orderly, and traditional academic environment," says Mystic Valley's business manager, Rick Veilleux. Mystic Valley's teachers and staff serve approximately 1,465 students.

The opportunity Veilleux describes is a unique one, based on a framework of research-based curricular models. The components of its K-12 curriculum are built around for core pillars: Direct Instruction, Core Knowledge, Saxon Math, and International Baccalaureate Organization. Veilleux briefly outlines each:

Direct Instruction (DI) is a research-based model for teaching that emphasizes clearly designed lessons presented in small learning increments. The key beliefs of DI are that teachers are responsible for student learning and that curriculum design is a key factor in student achievement. As DI is based on the mastery of learning philosophy, students are grouped and advance according to their individual abilities and progress. The "Core Knowledge" movement is an educational reform based on the premise that a grade-by-grade core of common learning is necessary to ensure a sound and fair elementary education. The movement was started by Professor E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy and The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them. He has argued that, for the sake of academic excellence, greater fairness, and higher literacy, early schooling should provide a solid, specific, shared core curriculum in order to help children establish strong foundations of knowledge. Saxon Math is utilized in grades K-8, and has two unique aspects: explicit instruction and a distributed approach to instruction, practice, and assessment. In Saxon Math, each increment builds on the foundation of earlier increments, leading students to a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) is a nonprofit educational foundation that grew out of efforts to establish a common curriculum and a university entry credential that are recognized worldwide. The IBO offers the prestigious IB Diploma for the final two years of secondary education, and is known throughout the world as one of the most outstanding university preparation programs. In fact, even the school's typical days and year differ from other educational institutions, with a seven-and-a-half hour day and 200 instructional days each year. "As a result when compared to district public schools, students will receive more than three additional 'years' of instruction from kindergarten through grade 12," explains Veilleux.

So how well has Mystic Valley's approach worked? "Rather than concentrate on one or two individual students Mystic Valley can proudly point out that more than half of the class of 2011 graduates received the John & Abigail Adams Scholarship from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which entitles them to receive four full years of free tuition at any Massachusetts state college or university," Veilleux notes. "And prior graduating classes have had similar results. In fact, well over 90 percent of Mystic Valley's graduating seniors from every class have been accepted at four-year colleges and universities. Mystic Valley has been recognized four times in the last four years as one of the top high schools in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, and The Washington Post."

Veilleux attributes at least part of Mystic Valley success to its relationship with Salem Five. "Joe Leary, senior vice president, and Salem Five Bank have been instrumental in providing us with access to working capital to grow our school," he says. As a public charter school, we're responsible for developing and maintaining our school facilities. Unlike traditional public schools, we need to seek a renewal of our charter every five years. One of the financial challenges in this renewal process is the inability to guarantee anything beyond a five-year cycle. Joe has taken the time to learn about charter schools and how they work and assist us with maneuvering through the fund approval process. Salem Five has been there for us to develop products that work for the bank and the school."

Caption for accompanying photo: Officials from the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School proudly cut the ribbon on the school's new facility on Route 60 in Malden.

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