The founder of a Clifton Park-based private elementary school is opening a new middle school next fall at the Capital Region Maritime Center.
A total of 21 students will be enrolled in the new school, which will be called the Saratoga Academy for Leadership and Maritime Programs.
Founder and headmaster Michael Christensen said he was motivated to start the Saratoga Academy for the Arts and Sciences elementary school five years ago because he said parents need choices in educating their children. “I don’t believe education should be a one-size-fits-all model,” he said Monday at a news conference at the Maritime Center.
The elementary school currently has about 235 students. Christensen said there was a tremendous demand for expanding that program to the middle-school level.
Christensen said the idea to use the center came from a conversation he had with Pete Bardunias, president of the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. Bardunias thought the center was an untapped resource.
Christensen said the school will use a project-based interdisciplinary curriculum based on learning about the Mohawk River, the Erie Canal and emerging water-based technologies and maritime history.
The tuition for the middle school will be about $6,000, according to Christensen. Elementary school tuition is $5,000. He said he believes this is less expensive than other private schools in the area, which can range from $12,000 to $24,000.
Center officials have been trying to find a new tenant for more than a year. Capital Region BOCES ran a vocational training program for at-risk youths from 2000 until 2011, when it moved the program to Draper Middle School in Rotterdam. A group starting a Schenectady-based charter school called Eximius Academy looked at the building but deemed it too small for their needs. This past spring, the center’s board listed the property on the market for $1.2 million.
Deborah Rausch, executive director of the Capital Region Maritime Center, said the Saratoga Academy is leasing the space for $90,000 a year, which does not include utility costs and other expenses to be negotiated. The lease is for three years and has an option to renew.
Having this new tenant will help improve the center’s financial situation. It has $350,000 to pay back on a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan it took out to build the facility, Rausch said.
Rausch said she is very excited about the new school, which will draw students from Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany and Rensselaer counties.
“We will certainly build more than boats. We will build tomorrow’s leaders,” she said.
The school is partnering with various organizations on its curriculum. Beth Sciumeca, executive director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission, said it is appropriate that the school will focus on the Erie Canal, which she said took spirit, dedication and hard work to build.
“From the beginning, the canal was a teaching tool,” she said. “It became the nation’s first school of practical engineering.”
Eric Hamilton, executive director of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition, said the whole purpose of the byway is to tell the story of the Erie Canal waterway and the role it played in the country’s westward expansion.
Sean Shortell, a representative for U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said using the facility fits in with Tonko’s Mighty Waters initiative of tapping into the resources of the river.
“What better way to bring the next generation of leaders to a place like this, where they can see what’s in the river every single day?” he said.
Christensen said the building does not need a lot of work. There are two existing large classrooms and two more can be created by splitting one of the boat-building areas in half.
Five employees will be brought on with the new school. The elementary school currently employs about 25, according to Christensen.
Tiffany Torrey, chairwoman of the school’s board of trustees, said Christensen approached her five years ago to join the board of the start-up school in Clifton Park. She is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
“I had no idea that five years later we would be standing in this beautiful building,” she said.
Sharron Vyce of Halfmoon said she likes that the elementary school has offered smaller class sizes of 13 and more individualized attention for her 10-year-old son Chris Charrette, who had struggled in reading.
“He’s flourishing; he’s reading well,” she said.
Charrette said he likes his first year in the school.
“The teachers are nice and help you a lot,” he said.
The middle school can accommodate up to 50 people, so more slots are available. Christensen encouraged people to visit the school’s website at www.saratoga-academy.com or call 649-9524 for more information.
Chet Watson, president of the Capital Region Maritime Center board, was holding back tears as he thanked everyone involved in the entire project.
“Our goal is to create a center of excellence for education and the greater community,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Michael Goot at 395-3105 or [email protected]