Group to introduce conversion charter school

Group is looking to open in September 2015 the ‘George F. Baker STEM Academy Conversion Charter School’

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  • Denis Petrilak

— The GFB Charter Founding Group, a group of area “stakeholders,” is moving ahead with plans it feels will ensure George F. Baker High School’s long-term viability by finalizing an application to present to the Tuxedo Board of Education for review and approval and later to the state Education Department and Board of Regents to transform the school into a conversion charter school.

The grass roots group - made of teachers, community, civic and business members from the greater Tuxedo community - is hopeful the proposed school, to be renamed George F. Baker STEM Academy Conversion Charter School, will open in September 2015.

“We’re breaking new ground in education in the mid-Hudson region and at the state level,” said Denis Petrilak, the group’s lead applicant and spokesperson, who is also Baker’s principal. “We’re bringing a fully integrated STEM program into this conversion charter school.”

An informational night will be held on Monday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m. where officials will give an overview of education plan, timeline for implementation, and other points of emphasis.

The first suburban conversation school

The proposed school would be the first suburban school of this type in the state, Petrilak said. There are only nine schools like this in New York State: Eight in New York City and one in Buffalo.

A charter school is a public school, according to information posted on the newly created website, It is financed through public, local, state, and federal funds but is independent of, although accountable to, local school boards and ultimately to the Board of Regents.

If granted, the non-profit charter would be in place for five years and is renewable.

The authority of the charter school to provide education is through a “charter,” a type of contract, between the charter school board of trustees and one of the chartering entities approved and issued by the state Board of Regents.

Founding Group officials said charter schools typically focus on innovative curriculum, a new approach to school organization, or some other features that differentiate them from regular public schools.

Tuxedo students guaranteed enrollment

Students and parents seeking an alternative to their current public, private or parochial high schools may find those specialized focuses appealing and want to attend Baker because they feel the curriculum best meets their individual needs and future plans.

“All Tuxedo residents will be guaranteed enrollment in the charter school,” said Petrilak. “We are also including a preference for Greenwood Lake students, we want to give them direct access to the program. Any remaining seats would be available to students on a lottery from different districts and I estimate that number to be 100 lottery seats. Parents from other districts will be able to apply here and give them a certain level of choice.”

The strong GWL connections

The present enrollment is 330, the ideal enrollment is 460, he said.

Petrilak stressed the group’s feeling that the relationship with Greenwood Lake is extremely important.

“For 34 years we have been the high school for Greenwood Lake,” he said. “Most of the trustees on the village board, the police, the fire people, the business people, are Baker graduates. There are deep connections to that school. We’re part of community life in Greenwood Lake. We’re part of Greenwood Lake and we want them to be a part of this.”

Petrilak acknowledged it is important for the greater Tuxedo community to find ways to keep Baker viable and the conversion charter school was one recommendation to do that.

“Yes it is nice to have the numbers from Greenwood Lake but we do believe the program we are building is attractive and we will get the numbers,” he said. “We are experiencing interest in families from other schools throughout the region as well.”

Frank Accetta, another group member and a guidance counselor at the school, said the proposal quickly developed into something more.

“It started with the past, but it’s grown into something more exciting,” said Accetta. “We have parents who want this opportunity for their children. It’s 21st century education. It’s preparing them for life, for succeeding in the work world.”

Petrilak said the small school setting and STEM emphasis makes for great student opportunities.

“It’s very innovative,” he said. “It’s a small and supportive nurturing high school setting creating relevant classroom experiences. We want to provide choice. We want to provide and innovate programs that are aligned to workforce needs and the future of where education and careers are going and be available in those areas. We believe this is such a strong program that we’re not going to have any difficulty filling seats.”

By Nancy Kriz

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