Charter school centered on service in the works for Concord

  • Stephanie Alicea presents her proposal for a new Concord charter school to the State Board of Education on Thursday. Lola Duffort/ Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/9/2017 11:59:20 PM

Stephanie Alicea has always loved the movie Pay it Forward – it’s even on her license plate.

“I saw the movie when I was so much younger and that put a name to what my mom taught me and lived naturally,” she said.

Now, the Boscawen educator wants to start a new charter school in the Concord area based on the idea of service learning – an educational model that integrates community service with instruction.

“Service learning is an integral part of the academic work. It teaches students that the skills they’re learning can be put to use to make life better,” she told the State Board of Education, which can authorize charter schools, during a hearing on Thursday.

State Board members expressed enthusiasm for the Capital City Charter School – but also told Alicea they needed more details before green-lighting the project. It’ll likely come back up before the body in January.

Alicea and her family are well-known in the area. Her mother, Caroletta Alicea, is a three-term state representative, and her son, Samuel, made headlines last year when he took a knee at Merrimack Valley High during a football game to protest police brutality and racial inequality. The family eventually pulled Samuel out of Merrimack Valley after they said he received threats and sent him to the Tilton School.

But Alicea said her experience looking for an alternative schooling option for her son isn’t what spurred her to start a charter.

“I get this question a lot. But this has been in the process for a good two years. This has been brewing,” she said in an interview.

Alicea has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from New England College and for years taught health and physical education at high schools in the area. She’s now at the Merrimack Valley County Diversion Center and the Chrysalis Recovery Center in Concord teaching life skills.

The idea for the school, she said, was ultimately a marriage between her professional background and her personal philosophy.

Alicea envisions the Capital City Charter School would ultimately serve grades 6 through 12, although it would start as just a middle school and eventually grow to include a high school. Enrollment would start with about 60 kids in the first year, she told the board, and would ideally grow to about 320 students by its fifth year. The student-to-teacher ratio would range from 20 to 15 students per teacher.

Service-learning models exist in a number of schools across the country, Alicea said, including in Massachusetts and Vermont.

The projects students undertake can take many forms. A common one is a community garden, she said, where kids can integrate a host of academic subjects – biology, math, even literacy – into hands-on learning.

Board members said they liked the idea, but they urged Alicea to find additional people to serve on the school’s board of directors to lend a broader array of skills and support to the project. They also pushed her to clarify items in CCCS’s proposed budget to make sure the school had the resources it needed.

“I had this very supportive reaction – I did – to your application in the first place, and to your presentation. But it just feels like it needs more infrastructure,” said board member Bill Duncan.

Drew Cline, the board’s chairman, suggested the board get an update on a revised application in December, in the hopes of formally reconsidering it in January.

“There’s a lot of excitement about your application. I think there’s a sense that this would be a great option for Concord,” Cline said. “There’s just not the comfort level with the application completion right now.”

Matt Southerton, the president of the New Hampshire Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said after the meeting it looked like a bureaucratic mix-up at the state Department of Education meant the board had been looking at an outdated application for the school.

“There was a disconnect between what the board had in front of them and what Ms. Alicea submitted six or seven weeks ago,” he said.

But both Southerton and Alicea also said board members had offered good advice.

“I got some solid feedback, and I think that that’s really important,” she said.

Alicea said she hasn’t found a location for the school yet, but has reached out to area real estate agents. She hopes to open in the fall.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or

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