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November 20, 2012 | last updated November 20, 2012 2:07 pm

New charter school looks to court businesses

John Jaques is counting down the days to Sept. 3, 2013. That's when Baxter Academy, the latest charter school to receive approval from the state, plans to open in Portland with 160 students in grades 9 and 10.

"It sounds like a long time away but it's probably going to go pretty quickly," says Jaques, Baxter's founder and executive director.

That's because the next 10 months will have Jaques seeking not only students and staff but corporate partnerships that he plans to integrate into the school's project-based curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math.

With the approval of Baxter's charter application this week, Jaques says he will start courting area businesses for partnerships like "Flex Fridays," where he plans for students to hear weekly from representatives of technology- and science-oriented companies in greater Portland.

"The location is really ideal for us to partner with Fairchild and Unum and Idexx and Cianbro," Jaques says. "There are so many firms down here in the Portland area that it gives us a distinct advantage over programs at even some of the other local high schools."

And as the school gets closer to its opening date, the expansion into more of its 20,000-square-foot York Street building will begin, moving into new classrooms and labs where Jaques says the school will seek corporate sponsorships.

For now, the school occupies one classroom where it runs after-school courses in computer programming, Mandarin Chinese language and astrophotography. In the near-term, Jaques says, those offerings will expand to another computer programming course, robotics and a class in the design program Google SketchUp.

Leading into next fall, Jaques says he'll seek teachers and students suited to a "project-based" learning approach that he says will be similar to Portland's Casco Bay High School for Expeditionary Learning.

"We are big admirers of Casco Bay High School and what they're doing," Jaques says. "We want every teacher to be able to [explain] 'Why are we learning this?'"

Building relationships with local technology industry leaders who can connect areas of study to specific professions will play a part in that, which is why Jaques says the school was located in downtown Portland, providing geographic proximity to a number of southern Maine's technology-sector businesses.

Jaques says a charter school's governing structure of a nonprofit board of directors - rather than a school board - grants the school greater flexibility in making decisions like starting with a paperless curriculum, using Google Apps and giving each student a laptop to serve as students' main work tool.

Those efforts will be informed by the organization's board of directors, which includes Shaun Meredith, formerly the senior project manager for Apple who managed the Maine Technology Learning Initiative that provided laptops to students at Maine high schools.

The board includes other area business leaders like board President Andrea Berry, director of partnerships and learning for the Portland nonprofit Idealware, which advises nonprofits on technology.

In its first year, Jaques says the school will look to bring in a class of freshmen and sophomores. In the second year, Jaques says he will work to develop an internship program for juniors at the school, building on corporate relationships developed in the school's first year.

"Now that we've gotten full approval, we've got 10 months to work toward building these partnerships and putting together the curriculum and really refining it to where we want to be," Jaques says.

Originally, the school hoped to open this September, but received only conditional approval from the state this summer.

By 2015, when the school should see its first class of rising seniors, Jaques says Baxter Academy aims to have 320 students.

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