Cooper, Norcross and KIPP teaming up to bring five schools to Camden

The Cooper Foundation and TEAM Schools, a branch of the national network of KIPP the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools, will announce a partnership today to develop five new schools in Camden’s Lanning Square neighborhood.

Proposals for a new type of public school in Camden called “Renaissance Schools” are due at 2 p.m. today. Cooper and KIPP officials will hold a news conference at 1:30 this afternoon to announce details of their partnership and the plan to house more than 2,800 students at the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.

The Cooper Foundation, the charitable arm of Cooper University Hospital, along with Cooper Chairman George E. Norcross III have been eyeing the Lanning Square School site since at least February to build a Renaissance School campus. Norcross is a managing partner in the company that owns The Inquirer.

His brother, Sen. Donald Norcross (D- Camden) wrote and sponsored the Urban Hope Act legislation, which Gov. Christie signed into law in January. It allows Camden, Newark and Trenton to each build up to four Renaissance Schools, which are similar to charter schools in that they are to be run by a nonprofit and receive most of their funding from district funding. Renaissance schools, however, are freed from public bidding rules and may use district funds to purchase school land and facilities.

So, if law allows for up to four schools, how will Cooper and KIPP be able to open FIVE schools? Read the fine print. The legislation states “Renaissance school project” means a newly-constructed school, or group of schools in a common campus setting, that provides an educational program for students enrolled in grades K through 12 or in a grade range less than K through 12, that is agreed to by the school district, and is operated and managed by a nonprofit entity in a renaissance school district.” 

That means the five count as one and the new partnership to establish KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy could apply for more Renaissance projects.

The Lanning Square site has sat vacant for several years since the former school was demolished to make room for a new school. More than $10 million has been invested in architectural designs and plans for the school.

KMS Development Partners - a construction consultant working with the Cooper Foundation - acquired the state Schools Development Authority’s drawings and specifications for the "proposed Lanning Square School," whose construction the state pushed off its priority list after Christie came into office in 2010.

If the Cooper/KIPP plan is approved, it could be the first Renaissance School project in the state.

The proposed renaissance school campus, which would consist of two elementary and middle schools and one high school, would include longer school days and an extended school year. Doctors and nurses from Cooper University Hospital and medical students from Cooper Medical School of Rowan University will have an active role through a variety of mentorship opportunities, according to a Cooper press release.

Phase I of the project, which will include one elementary and one middle school, is slated to be completed for the 2014-2015 school year.

The Camden City School Board has scheduled two special meetings for next week (Aug. 1 and 2) to go through the proposals that are turned in today

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