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January 10, 2013

Arts Academy Hearing: New Castle questions school organizers

NEW CASTLE — New Castle school officials got to ask half of their questions last night about a proposed charter school.

The rest will be posed at another public hearing, with time and date to be set within the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, the New Castle Arts Academy Charter School planning committee has broadened its list of potential sites for the school.

Founder Debra Rice said last night that the Cascade Galleria also is a possible location that surfaced about two weeks ago.

Other sites are the former Day’s Inn and Banquet Center downtown and the former New Castle Regional Ballet building at 20 W. Washington St.

Rice and three other charter school organizers faced the school board and administrators last night for a public hearing on their proposed plans for an arts-infused charter school for students in kindergarten through grade 8. Spanish would be taught in earlier grades as a mandatory course and students who opt out in higher grades would be taught Chinese Mandarin as a culture, Rice said.

A PowerPoint presentation included a video showing how singing, drama, music and art would be interwoven with core curriculum courses.

Fielding the questions was the charter school attorney, Joshua A. Pollak of Philadelphia. Other presenters were Rice, David Thor of Pittsburgh, who discussed the school’s location process, and Gasper Martinez, the group’s financial member.

While they did not readily have certain documents and research that the school officials requested, Pollak assured he could obtain that information before the school board votes on the application.

Terrence Meehan, assistant to the superintendent, drilled the representatives about the importance of reading, particularly to kindergartners and first-graders.

“I’m certainly a proponent of music education, but I’m also a strong believer in the teaching of reading,” he commented. “With your curriculum not fully developed, at what point would you provide us with details of your methodology to teach reading?”

Pollak said he would like three weeks to provide the board with that information.

Superintendent George Gabriel challenged a claim in the application that the charter school would score higher on state assessment tests than the district. He noted that charter schools statewide have scored lower than New Castle’s scores and asked for more substantiation.

School director Dr. Marilyn K. Berkely said she is skeptical about how students would learn required curriculum.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be more worried about the arts than the core courses.”

Pollak explained that arts are infused into the course subjects so that students learn in a different way. For example, they would use their bodies to dance during a geometry lesson or learn reading skills through opera.

“There will be a reading course,” he assured Meehan. As to how it would be taught, “we do not have that today.”

“If you’re going to open in August, you should have that soon,” Berkely commented.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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