New Castle News

December 10, 2012

New Castle board to consider charter proposal

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle school board expects to address a request for a new charter school this week.

The New Castle Arts Charter Academy has applied to the city school district for establishing a kindergarten through eighth-grade charter school that will offer fine arts and foreign languages as part of its curriculum.

The district has 45 days to act on the application, according to Debra Rice of Oakdale, a former West Pittsburg resident and organizer of the prospective school.

While charter schools are operated by their own boards, the law requires them to be chartered by the local school district.

The district’s approval is necessary because it would be the “feeder” district for the charter program, Rice explained. Students who live in the New Castle district would have first priority over other districts in attending, she said.



STRUCTURING

According to Rice, a group of interested parties researched the Pittsburgh area and narrowed the proposed school location to New Castle.

The charter school would be limited the first year to accepting students for kindergarten through third grade. Then one grade level per year would be added after that, up to eighth grade, Rice said.

She said the school would offer visual arts, music, dance and theater woven into the required academics. Spanish would be taught in kindergarten through eighth grade, and students in grades six, seven and eight would be taught Chinese.

Charter organizers include people from the New Castle area, Rice said. She would not provide names of the others involved without their consent.

They are considering two locations — the former Day’s Inn and Centre downtown or a building on West Washington Street that has been home to the New Castle Regional Ballet.

Rice said there have been no discussions with district administrators so far.

Charter school tuition would come from the school district’s budget — local and state revenues, which include tax dollars and annual state subsidies, New Castle’s business manager Joseph Ambrosini explained.



PUBLIC VOTE NEEDED

Rice pointed out that New Castle’s board vote on the New Castle Arts Charter Academy application must be taken at a public meeting.

Ambrosini said the board likely will discuss it at Monday’s public work session, which starts at 6 p.m., with a vote possible at its regular meeting Wednesday.

Should the board deny the application, it must provide an explanation of why it was denied, Rice explained. Then the charter school group would go into “revision mode” and amend the application and resubmit it.

If the school board approves the application, “we move on and prepare to open our doors in the fall of 2013,” she said.

Rice anticipates enrollment the first year to reach 156 students. Kindergarten would have 36, and grades one through eight would have 40 per grade level.

Then each year after that, 40 students will be added at each added grade level, with 20 per classroom.

Students in districts within a 10-mile radius would be eligible to enroll through a lottery-type system, after New Castle students get first choice, Rice explained.

Tuition at the charter school would be paid by the district hosting the child at a rate that district already receives in state subsidies. The respective school districts also would be required to bus the students to the charter school.

The Mohawk school district would be excluded because of distance, according to superintendent Kathleen Kwolek.

Ellwood City also falls outside the limits.



STANDARDS

Rice said that like public schools, the charter school would be required to meet the No Child Left Behind Act regulations of Adequate Yearly Progress and its student testing scores.

She contends no local school districts offer the same type of Renaissance curriculum, based strongly in the visual and performing arts.

“They offer art, but a lot of the districts are cutting art,” she commented.

It is the academy’s desire to work collaboratively with the New Castle district, she said, commenting, “We’re not the enemy. We’re just different in how we would approach education.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)