Camelot in for another year in Camden school district

Camden’s most at-risk students will continue to be taught and guided by a private alternative-education provider this upcoming school year.

The Camden School Board approved at its Tuesday meeting to renew Camelot’s annual $3.8 million contract with the district. However, Camelot’s plan to expand its “school within a school” program, which would have cost the district an additional $719,556, was tossed out after board members questioned where the district would get that money.

“I’m not comfortable spending money if I’m not 100 percent sure where the money is coming from,” said board member Kathryn Ribay. The 2012-2013 budget, as presented to the board earlier this year, did not allocate money for an additional Camelot program.

Camelot, which is owned by New York-based private equity firm Riverside and has similar alternative education programs throughout the country, just finished its first year in the Camden district.

In its first year, it enrolled 400 students - about 3 percent of district enrollment - in three different programs:

The accelerated program, which is housed at the former George Washington School building in Cramer Hill, works with students the district identified as "over-aged and under-credited," meaning they are a year or two behind schedule to graduate, such as a 17-year-old sophomore or a 20-year-old senior.

The transitional-education program is for grades six through 12 who have extreme behavioral issues. The staff, based in the former Creative Arts High School building in Waterfront South, works with transitioning students back to regular school.

The "school within a school" functions inside Camden High School and only students from Camden High could enroll in the program. It serves students with behavioral issues that could otherwise lead to suspension or expulsion.

“Looking at success we had at Camden High, we wanted to do the same at Woodrow Wilson,” said Camelot’s vice president for alternative education programs Milton Alexander. He pointed at an attendance rate of more than 80 percent for Camden High program students.

Part of Camelot’s contract had specific benchmarks including improved test scores, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates. However, neither Alexander nor Camelot spokesman Kirk Dorn could provide me specific academic statistics Tuesday.

During Tuesday night’s board meeting, Camden interim Superintendent Reuben Mills said he had a “stern” conversation earlier in the day with Camelot leaders to discuss the district’s expectations of the program.

“This could be a do or die year for the Camelot program,” Mills said at Tuesday night’s meeting.