School operators make pitches to Camden residents

Posted: February 21, 2014

CAMDEN The chief executive of the Mastery charter school network, Scott Gordon, told of turning around Smedley Elementary in Philadelphia, increasing student test scores there by 40 points in four years.

And Michael Ambriz of Uncommon Schools spoke of longer school days and a longer school year at its North Star Academy in Newark.

The representatives of the two charter operators, both applying to run charter-like "Renaissance" schools in Camden, made their pitches Monday evening to about 50 people in the first of four meetings planned by the district to enable sometimes-wary residents to get to know the applicants.

The evening, which started with a dinner, took on the feel of two marketing groups pitching brands to customers.

In an auditorium at H.B. Wilson Elementary School, the audience saw promotional videos, and heard from parent and student advocates for both. Between presentations, school leaders spoke individually with parents, education advocates, and even a security guard on duty who inquired about the nature of the event.

Another meeting is to be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at R.C. Molina School, followed by two more Saturday at other locations.

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard wants to bring two more Renaissance school operators to the city. Under the Urban Hope Act, Camden can have up to three of the public-private schools. It already has approved one: KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, slated to open in the fall.

Mastery operates 15 schools in Philadelphia. If approved by the state for Camden, it would open its first Renaissance school and its first school in Camden in the fall. Mastery has also applied to open a traditional charter school in the city.

"We believe deeply the state of urban education is in crisis and it's too often students who look like me and who look like you are left out," Michael Ambriz, chief operating officer of Uncommon's North Star Academy in Newark, told the audience.

Dominick Collins, a father of four in the district, said he was undecided about the operators coming in, but appreciated the discussion.

"We've heard more tonight than we have from the district before," he said. "It's shameful more parents didn't attend."

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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