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International Group To Take Over Mass. School This Fall

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A new, international entrant in the field of private management of public education will take over a Massachusetts elementary school this fall and is looking for more school partnerships.

The Sabis Foundation, a network of private schools in Europe and the Middle East, received a charter from the state earlier this year to run a public school in Springfield. The organization, based in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, signed a five-year lease agreement late last month with Springfield officials, who had backed the charter proposal.

Sabis schools stress a college-preparatory curriculum with emphasis on mathematics, science, and world languages. The for-profit company opened its first school in Lebanon in 1886 and has 12 other private schools, including the International School in Eden Prairie, Minn., which opened about a decade ago.

The others are in such countries as the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Britain, with new schools each due to open in Egypt and Germany this fall.

Udo Schulz, a vice president of Sabis, said last week the organization had recently begun mapping out a strategy for forming partnerships with U.S. school districts to run more public schools. "We would like to expand," he said.

However, Mr. Schulz said Sabis does not envision taking over as many public schools as the New York City-based Edison Project, whose founders have hoped for quick expansion to hundreds of sites nationwide. The company, launched by the media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle, will take over a handful of public schools this fall.

Edison is a partner in a charter school that will open in Boston in the fall. The company also joined Springfield officials in a charter request during Massachusetts' second round of proposals earlier this year, but state officials have passed over that request for now.

Sabis decided to seek a charter after learning that Springfield officials sought innovative approaches for school organization and management, Mr. Schulz said.

Welcomed by District

Under the Massachusetts charter law, the state's secretary of education can approve as many as 25 independent public schools statewide, with no more than five each in Boston or Springfield. Charter schools receive a major portion of the per-pupil state aid that would have gone to a student's school district.

The state has approved 17 charter applications, although state officials acknowledged last week that three of the schools will not open this fall as scheduled.

Teresa Regina, the executive assistant to Springfield's superintendent, said that while many Massachusetts districts oppose charter groups because of the resulting loss of state aid, her district welcomed them.

"We looked at this as a school system," she said, "and wondered, 'How can we work with this concept to accelerate our own school-improvement process?'"

Springfield officials especially liked Sabis' assessment methods, in which student tests are graded by Sabis staff members outside the school building. That helps insure that teachers stick to the Sabis curriculum, she said.

Springfield has about 24,000 students in 41 schools. Sabis will take over an existing elementary school and teach some 450 students in grades K-7 in the fall. The company will also build a $500,000 addition to the school, which will expand to include high school grades.

Joanne Laflamme, a Springfield resident who is a member of the board of trustees overseeing the charter school, said she was impressed by Sabis' computer system for monitoring student progress, as well as its emphasis on teacher accountability.

By entering a public school partnership, she said, Sabis "wants to prove that its whole system of teaching will work no matter what the student population is."

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