History, performing arts and refugee education are among the focuses of seven new charter schools the State Charter School Board approved Monday. The schools are set to open in the 2009-10 school year.

Along with the new charter approvals the board also approved expansions at nine existing schools. The totals translate to nearly 6,500 new charter school students.

"I think there was a clear decision made by all board members ... it was pretty unified and I feel that the ones that were approved, whether they were expansions or new schools, are ready and prepared right now," said Scott Smith, charter board member.

Charters are free and public schools open to everyone. Most charters have a specific and unique focus and enrollment in the schools is subject to lottery if too many students apply for a given school.

This year the Utah Legislature allowed the charter board to approve slots for around 6,700 new students for the 2009 school year — be it through expansion of existing schools or new approvals.

But there were requests for around 10,000 new students and the board had to whittle that number down in their monthly meeting Monday.

Those charters that didn't make the cut are free to apply for the 2010 school year.

Smith said as the process gets more and more competitive the board is seeing stronger charter applications that are better prepared as well as more innovation. Moreover, the charter board gives preference to schools that target under-served populations or are in rural areas that don't already have charter schools.

"We want uniqueness — we want you to show us that you are serving a population that's not been served, we want you to show us that you are something special and different," Smith said. "And because of that, that is what we are seeing."

The newly approved schools include an American Preparatory Academy satellite, which will target refugee students and families and be built on the west side of South Salt Lake City. Carolyn Sharette, APA director, said the school will allow students to learn at their own pace with more one-on-one instruction as well as provide services that address the unique needs of the refugee populations. The school has been and will continue to work closely with refugee advocacy groups in Salt Lake City.

Other schools include Vista at Entrada, a K-8 performing arts school in Washington School District; the Open High School of Utah, a virtual school out of Utah State University that will serve students statewide and is based in Logan; and Hawthorne Academy, a K-9 elementary in the West Jordan area that will have smaller class sizes and more adult-to-student attention.

Also included in the new approvals is The Early Light Academy, a K-8 history-focused school in Daybreak, which is also partnering with Kennecott; Excelsior Academy, a K-8 school in Tooele; and Oquirrh Mountain Charter in Davis County, which will focus on U.S. history.

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