Photo Gallery | First day at BART Charter Public School
ADAMS — The Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School kicked off the 2016-17 school year with the largest enrollment since the school was founded in 2004.
Executive Director Julia Bowen said there are 363 students enrolled in the grade 6-12 public school. That total meets the cap set by school administrators and state education officials, she said.
Diversity, a safe learning environment and a rigorous college preparatory curriculum all act as enticements for students and parents, she said.
"More than half of our students come from Pittsfield," Bowen said. "We have diversity here; 30 percent of our students are students of color. There are about 23 percent with individualized education program (IEP) plans, which is on par locally and above the state average."
The ratio of students is 48 percent male and 52 percent female, and Bowen noted that the state is shifting to a new system that will include the term "non-binary," which is a catch-all phrase for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.
"To me, our student body reflects broader America, a broader community," she said. "It's a focused, vibrant community."
Teachers spent the past two weeks in their classrooms preparing for the first day, she said. The school year is longer than the traditional school year, at 185 to 189 days compared to state's mandated public school 180-day requirement.
With the student population at its state-authorized limit, "managing enrollment is a difficult challenge," Bowen said.
There are students on a waiting list for various grades now, and the school does not accept new students beyond Grade 9, Bowen said. The BART class of 2016 graduated 23 students, and this year's senior class is at 17 students. If the enrollment numbers remain stable throughout the year, there theoretically will be room for 17 incoming sixth grade students next year, Bowen said.
Charter schools may expand only with permission from the state, and BART has no intention to expand at this time, she said. "We have no more room for more students," she said.
The school offers 30 arts electives and students may choose two per trimester.
"Our focus on the arts is great, and we have many programs available, including pottery, graphic design, creative writing in addition to the things like painting,' she said.
Todd Casey, of Cheshire, explained why his son, Conroy, is a seventh grade BART student.
"There's more concentration on academic achievement rather than athletic achievement," Casey said. "I don't want him going through what I went through in high school. I want Conroy to be on an even level every day, not in a school where you either have to be excellent or be forgotten."
Susan Butler said that her grandson, John Kozak of North Adams, liked his sixth grade experience at BART and is back for seventh grade. Butler said John likes the school so much he is considering changing his mind about where to attend high school.
"He was going to go the [McCann Technical High School], but now he says he wants to stay here," she said. "Number one, it is a very good school and he is a very bright boy. He likes drama and last year he was in the science fair. I think last year he liked all his teachers."
Class of 2016 alum Ethan Dubreuil was visiting the campus prior to beginning his college career at Hampshire College.
"As a whole, this school was a good experience," he said. "I got a personal and individualized experience."
The school now operates nine student transportation busses and also offers an athletic program. Students compete as part of a River Valley Athletic League.
"The league is made up of mostly of independent and charter schools," Bowen said. "We compete against schools that are similar to ours."
BART is the only charter school in the Berkshires. Buxton School, a private school in Williamstown, is also in the league, but most of the competing schools are in the Northampton region, Bowen said.
"Our athletes have some long bus rides," she said.
Senior year students are required to enroll in a college class, take the class on a college campus, and pass it with a grade that meets the BART standard, which may be higher than the college passing standard.
School students wear uniforms and that is appealing to some parents, she noted. There are students who appreciate the uniforms as well, she said.
Senior level students must present a portfolio of their work to a panel of educators, various education administrators and their parents as a graduation requirement, and BART students are required to take the assessments taken at other public schools, including the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, Bowen emphasized.
The school has been recognized nationally in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.
"I am always excited when it's the first day of school," Bowen said. "It's so great to work with such dynamic teachers and students."