Applying For A New Charter School: Plenty Of Paperwork, Eye-Opening Conversations

Oct 22, 2015

Dakota Benedetto in the NHPR studios. She's part of a group trying to start the LEAF Charter School in Alstead.
Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR

For Dakota Benedetto, trying to get a charter school approved hasn't been an easy task.

They ask for a five-year projected budget. Since the first year is kind of pre-opening, but you’re still at least a year out from when you’re writing it, you’re looking six or seven years in advance, so how much money are you going to be spending on copy paper seven years from now? That whole process of trying to juggle the numbers and get the budget to work was challenging. 

She's a teacher at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, and is part of a group trying to start the LEAF Charter School, an alternative high school in Alstead. 

The group hopes to open in the fall of 2017, a date that has been pushed back due to delays in approval. Benedetto says the process has been cumbersome, but she respects that it's so thorough. She also says the process has led to some great dialogue in her community.

 It’s been a great opportunity for me to meet and talk with many people in my community who really care about public education and really care about the outcomes for these students. Many of these people have diverse or even opposing opinions to my own, but engaging in those conversations and just finding out what people think of our existing system and how they feel change could happen has been really eye opening for me.

You can read the full text of her interview with NHPR's Morning Edition below.

Take me through process of what you’ve done to get state authorization for the LEAF School.

We worked really hard to get our initial application in for February of 2015. The state took some time to take a look at it. They gave us some really good feedback, they sent it back to us in mid to late March with a lot of great legal comments. It’s a big document with a lot of really stringent requirements, so they gave us some feedback on things that needed work. We had a chance to revise and send it back in this past summer. We were really kind of hoping to get approved this summer and potentially open for next fall, fall of 2016, but I guess there’s been some kind of moving around of things, and we’ve been delayed for our next presentation to the state board until January. So ideally, if we get approval this coming winter, we’re hoping to open in the fall of 2017.

The LEAF School's logo.
Credit www.leafschoolnh.org

Now you had to make that revised application in July. What was the specific reason? What did the state say to you that needed to be updated?

All kinds of things. They wanted some more specificity in our budget, which I feel like was by far the most challenging part of the process. They ask for a five-year projected budget. Since the first year is kind of pre-opening, but you’re still at least a year out from when you’re writing it, you’re looking six or seven years in advance, so how much money are you going to be spending on copy paper seven years from now? That whole process of trying to juggle the numbers and get the budget to work was challenging. They wanted a lot more specificity from us on that.

Do you feel the state’s been fair with you in working with getting going?

I do. I mean, I guess I’m sort of a poor judge because this is the first time I’ve tried to start a charter school. I do feel like the process is a little bit onerous; it’s a little bit cumbersome in that there’s so much paperwork to do, but at the same time, I have a lot of respect for that. There are some states out there that will give a charter to any guy off the street. I think New Hampshire has really high standards, which makes things challenging in the start-up process, but it makes for a better school in the long run and a more effective education system.

So what have you learned from the process of trying to get LEAF started?

This has been a huge learning experience for me as an educator. It’s been a great opportunity for me to meet and talk with many people in my community who really care about public education and really care about the outcomes for these students. Many of these people have diverse or even opposing opinions to my own, but engaging in those conversations and just finding out what people think of our existing system and how they feel change could happen has been really eye opening for me.