Life at Mastery : In the News : Two renaissance projects advance in Camden

Two renaissance projects advance in Camden

Friday, January 31 2014. By Phil Dunn, Courier-Post

A renaissance is coming to Camden, literally.

School Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced his support Thursday for two new renaissance schools, charter-type facilities that would be run by nonprofits in communities with high numbers of at-risk youth.

The district also said the state will fund much-needed renovations at Camden High School, and that a nonprofit’s proposal to take over the high school is not being considered.

“We are committed to remedy the building conditions at Camden High,” said Charles McKenna, CEO of the state’s School Development Authority.

About seven nonprofits submitted applications to operate renaissance schools in Camden. Rouhanifard said he would present projects submitted by Mastery Charter School and Uncommon Schools.

Mastery currently operates 15 charter schools in Philadelphia. It plans to open three elementary schools in Camden this fall.

Uncommon has charter schools in Newark, New York and Boston. Its application to the Camden district proposes five schools by 2019.

Rouhanifard said he will introduce the projects at community meetings in the coming weeks. Neither project will be approved until the district gets feedback from the public, he added.

“Both providers were recommended to move forward based on their track record of success, experience with low-income children, financial stability and their plan to provide socio-emotional services and engage the local community,” Rouhanifard said in a statement.

School officials said each applicant either will build a new school or take oversight of an existing, but significantly renovated, school. But David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, argued the Urban Hope Act, the law that created renaissance schools, does not provide facilities funding.

“And it does not allow a charter school to take over an existing Camden public school building, even under the guise of a school renovation,” he said.

State Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, backed Rouhanifard, saying the superintendent utilizes every resource at his disposal to deliver a top-quality education to city children.

“I authored the Urban Hope Act with the goal of providing new public schools where our state needs them the most,” Norcross said.

During an interview Monday, Rouhanifard likened the renaissance formula to neighborhood schools.

“They serve a specific catchment area, which directly rebuts a lot of the criticism we constantly hear about traditional charters not always serving all of Camden students,” he explained.

http://www.courierpostonline.com/article/20140131/NEWS21/301300068/Two-renaissance-projects-advance-Camden?nclick_check=1