New Castle News

January 8, 2014

Charter school likely to be rejected

Charter school likely to be rejected

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A public hearing for an arts-infused charter school in New Castle has left school district administrators scratching their heads.

New Castle school board members indicated by unanimous straw vote Monday they intend to reject the application for the New Castle Arts Academy Charter School. The vote is to take place at their regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

The members have directed the administrators to prepare a document spelling out why they plan to reject the charter school application.

This is the second attempt to apply for a charter school and the second time the board is turning it down. The first application was submitted in November 2012, and the board rejected it March 14 after two public hearings.

The application was resubmitted in November, identifying the school’s intended location at the former Day’s Inn downtown.

The charter applicants’ next step after rejection would be to file a petition to certify their appeal. The school organizers need to gather 2 percent or 1,000 signatures from residents of the school district. Once they have that, the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas would approve the filing and certify the appeal. Then the state charter school appeal board would consider the appeal, district solicitor Charles Sapienza explained.

Discussions among administrators and the school board at the public work session Monday followed a three-hour public hearing last month. A panel of the charter school organizers, including their attorney, Joshua A. Pollak of Philadelphia, and an educational consulting firm, were represented, along with Debra Rice, founder.

The school, for kindergarten through eighth grade, would be limited to kindergarten through third grade the first year. The plans call for adding one grade level each year after that.

Pollak said the school would have eight classrooms and a cafeteria/gymnasium the first year.

He told the school board the charter school planners have added a team of experts to ensure the curriculum would be appropriately aligned with the new common core standards and to make sure it was infused with the arts.

In his address to the school board at the public hearing, Pollak said the charter school group took the school district’s first denial of the application “very seriously,” and despite issues it had with the district’s initial arguments, “we spent months and months making sure this is an application that the charter school board could be proud of.”

He noted the proposed charter school is modeled after the Baden Academy, which is in its second year and has shown academic superiority over other charter schools in the commonwealth.

He emphasized the application is completed under the requirements of charter school law.

District administrators questioned the charter school planners at length at the hearing on various aspects of teaching position numbers, budget, reading curriculum, availability of specialty teachers and planning for special needs students.

Superintendent John J. Sarandrea gave a power point presentation, casting a shadow over the success of existing charter schools in Mercer and Lawrence counties.

School board member Dr. Marilyn Berkely told the charter school panel that “I don’t see that this hearing was any different than the last, because any time anyone asked you a question, you all sat there and looked at each other like you still didn’t know what to do.”

“These are our kids, and we want the best for our kids,” she said. “I would have hoped that you would be further along by now.”