N.J. grants charters to two more Camden schools

At Hope Community Charter School in Camden, which the state approved Friday, John Zeck sorts teaching material. It will start with kindergarten and first-grade classes.
At Hope Community Charter School in Camden, which the state approved Friday, John Zeck sorts teaching material. It will start with kindergarten and first-grade classes. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 22, 2013

The New Jersey Department of Education gave the green light for an additional two charter schools to open in Camden, making the city the state's most charter-concentrated school district.

On Friday, the department granted six charters to schools in the state: Camden Community Charter School and Hope Community Charter School in Camden, plus one in Cumberland County and three in North Jersey.

About 3,800 of Camden's 16,000 students, about 23 percent, will now be enrolled in the city's 11 charter schools. Newark is second to Camden with 22 percent of its total 44,000 students enrolled in charter schools. The North Jersey city added one charter school in this round.

Camden's charter-enrollment number for the 2013-14 school year is lower than the district's projection of 5,000 students when it was estimating that all five of the charter schools with preliminary approval would open.

Instead, Excellence Charter School withdrew its application, and International Academy Charter School requested a planning year. Both schools had problems finding a facility in time for a fall 2013 opening, founders for each school said. Scott Gordon, CEO of the Mastery charter schools in Philadelphia, who proposed Excellence Charter School in Camden, said he planned to submit a new charter application in October for a September 2014 opening.

Charter School for Global Leadership, which had found a facility downtown, was denied a charter for failing to meet all requirements of the "preparedness visit," such as a fire-inspection certificate and a certificate of occupancy for education, according to the denial letter from the state Education Department.

A cofounder of Global Leadership, the Rev. Tim Merrill, said the city's zoning board "dragged the process" to get the Market Street building the appropriate school zoning.

"It's a shame that kind of detail will inhibit our" opening, Merrill said Friday. He added that the founders would be reapplying with the state for a September 2014 opening.

In February, the Camden school board unanimously approved a $326.5 million operating budget, with $66 million of that allocated to help educate what was expected to be 5,000 charter-school students in the city. That allocation will likely be less, since only two of the five planned charter schools will actually open in the fall.

Camden Community Charter School, which was created by the organization behind the Chester Community Charter School, is building a brand-new campus, on Linden and Ninth Streets in North Camden, with a school building and gymnasium.

The school will open with 150 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, but is expected to grow to eighth grade with 950 students. Camden Community will be managed by CSMI Education Management, the company that runs the Chester school.

Hope Community Charter School will be housed inside the sprawling First Nazarene Baptist Church in the city's Liberty Park neighborhood. The charter school will be starting with 132 pupils - four classes of kindergarten and two classes of first grade.

"The need in Camden is for kindergarten," based on the families who applied to the school, said cofounder Tracy Foedisch.

The school will eventually grow to fourth grade with 330 students.

Last week, school cofounder Robin Ruiz was purchasing desks and other furniture for the school. Teacher orientation was Thursday.

First Nazarene gave the charter plenty of open space in the building, which school staff will be painting and organizing in time for a September opening, Foedisch said.

In one room, lacrosse sticks and balls were piled high in a tall bin with other sporting equipment. The gym teacher will be figuring out how to incorporate it all into the children's curriculum, Foedisch said.

"We'll pray for sunny weather every day," she said.

The International Academy of Camden Charter School, which requested the planning year, expects to open in 2014, pending final state approval, with 350 students in grades K-3 in the first year, and to expand annually by one grade level until becoming a K-12 school with about 1,200 students. The school will be managed by Sabis International School Network.

New Jersey is now home to 87 charter schools. In the last two years, the Department of Education has opened 31 new charter schools, closed 10 schools for poor performance, and put an additional 21 schools on probation, according to the department.

"Accountability is important," Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said in a statement Friday, "and we have and will continue to hold every charter school accountable both for the quality of its educational program and for equality of access to all students."

Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@ phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.inquirer.com/


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