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January 8, 2014

Charter school plans ‘almost laughable,’ board member says

NEW CASTLE — New Castle school administrators and board members have articulated why they should reject plans for a charter school.

The board’s work session Monday focused on the New Castle Arts Academy Charter School’s preparedness and curriculum — particularly in reading — for the lower grades.

District administrators said they are skeptical about whether the children would receive an adequate education.

Terence P. Meehan, assistant to the superintendent, criticized the charter school plans as “a hodgepodge approach.”

“This is a specialized school but there is no proposal for a specialist to be hired, and no recommendation of specialization,” he said.

He criticized the charter school’s proposed budget and commented that its program of study is incomplete.

“They say they’re offering Spanish and physical education but the number of staff is lacking,” he said.

Meehan claimed the charter school’s curriculum is not research-based. He also pointed out the application covers only kindergarten through third grade, yet the intent is to eventually expand the school through eighth grade.

“You can’t build it as you go,” he said.

He added the security plan includes only one part-time guard.

“A lot of components are missing,” Meehan said. “Where’s the validity to their research? When you really dig into it, the parameters are not there.”

Superintendent John J. Sarandrea commented, “They’ve failed to show how they’re modeled. Their curriculum lacks depth and we don’t even know their curriculum is culturally sensitive.”

He said he was referring to various demographics of children in the New Castle school system.

“They just don’t have enough money to do what they’re telling us they want to do,” district solicitor Charles Sapienza concluded.

District business manager Joseph Ambrosini, who looked at the plans from a budget standpoint, pointed out the charter school would need at least three more teachers than the plan includes to achieve its goals.

“Therefore, the budget isn’t what they presented that evening,” he said.

He added he did not see start-up numbers in the budget, there is no contingency fund in the plans, nor are any alternatives proposed for funding if the enrollment projections do not work out.

At a hearing last month, the school organizers said it would have eight full-time instructors, one of them a specialty teacher. Yet the initial enrollment is projected at 156 with eight classrooms.

Meehan had argued there would not be enough teachers for general classroom instruction, let alone specialty courses such as Spanish or physical education.

Sapienza noted no business people or community members attended the hearing on the school’s behalf.

John Mozzocio, the district’s special programs supervisor, pointed out the charter school organizers didn’t have answers to what types of programs they would offer for special education or special needs students.

“It’s impossible to offer these types of programs with two teachers,” he said, noting the plan as presented includes two special needs teachers.

“You have to have support with that,” he continued, including a school psychologist, speech therapist and an occupational therapist. Those don’t show up in the charter school’s budget, he said.

Sarandrea pointed out the model the charter school organizers used for professional (teacher) development was last revised in 2001.

“It might as well have been 100 years ago.”

He added that, recalling the district’s information technology specialist Beth Barber’s input, there is no plan for technology in place.

“They’re simply not ready to do it,” Sarandrea said.

“My biggest fear is that some students are going to be guinea pigs in the most formative years of education.”

He added that while the charter school’s intentions are good, “I am greatly alarmed at how unprepared they are to run a school, especially a primary school.”

“This is the third hearing we’ve had on the charter school,” board member and retired superintendent George Gabriel commented. “They were able to go back to the drawing board and address our concerns and they didn’t do it.”

“It’s almost laughable,” board member Dr. Marilyn Berkely commented.

Sarandrea asked, “Is there anyone on the board who sees something positive here for the children?”

The nine board members fell silent.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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