Mastery wins right operate charter schools in Camden

Posted: February 23, 2014

CAMDEN Philadelphia charter school powerhouse Mastery Schools was given the green light Friday to operate in Camden, where the organization also hopes to open a "Renaissance" school through a separate application process.

Mastery serves 9,600 students in Philadelphia in 15 schools, 10 of which are turnaround schools, troubled schools taken over by the organization.

Mastery was previously approved in Camden, but withdrew after failing to find a building. This time it hopes to open two kindergarten-to-sixth-grade schools feeding into one 7-12 school.

The Department of Education approves charter schools throughout the year and gave Mastery the go-ahead in an expedited round for "charters with a proven track record," spokesman Michael Yaple said.

A second school, Link Community Charter School in Newark, was also approved to enroll 288 students in grades five through eight.

The Camden district enrolls 15,000 students in 26 schools.

Mastery has also applied to operate a campus of Renaissance schools through the Urban Hope Act. In an application, given preliminary endorsement by the Camden district, Mastery proposed to open three elementary schools beginning in fall 2014. Mastery awaits final approval from the state and has been holding meetings for parents and residents.

Renaissance schools are hybrid district-charter schools that can use public funds for new construction, unlike charter schools, which cannot use public money for their facilities. The schools otherwise operate in much the same way.

At a community meeting on Wednesday in Camden, Mastery chief executive Scott Gordon played a promotional video for the network, in which Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama tout some of its successes.

"There are going to be some skeptics about this initiative," Gordon said. "We welcome those discussions. It's Mastery's belief schools need to be at the center of the community."

Camden advisory council president Kevin Barfield toured a Mastery school last week and came away impressed by its facilities and its art and music classes. He said after the meeting he had some concerns about large charter networks.

"My only question is, are they doing too much? The larger you get the harder it is to keep the system moving forward."

In 2012 23 of the district's 26 schools were rated as failing based on state testing scores. The state took over the school district last year and named Paymon Rouhanifard superintendent.

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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