Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Two Renaissance school applicants seek waivers

CAMDEN The two school operators hoping to open "Renaissance" schools in Camden this fall have requested waivers from the state for the portion of their application requiring that they provide an address and building schematics.

Mastery and Uncommon Schools are looking to be approved to open in the fall for the 2014-15 school year and have been working with the city to determine permanent locations for the schools they hope to build or renovate, pending state approval, the applications say.

In the meantime, they have started recruiting students and teachers, and have secured temporary locations for next year through the district. Mastery and Uncommon prefer to locate in existing district buildings, according to the applications, which include the waiver requests, sent to the state April 7. The district has seven unused facilities.

Uncommon Schools hopes to open with a kindergarten in a temporary facility at the former Parkside Elementary School on Kenwood Avenue. Uncommon would build a permanent school in neighboring Whitman Park.

Mastery listed its interest in a wide range of neighborhoods for permanent facilities, including Parkside, Whitman Park, East Camden, and North Camden.

If approved, starting in the fall Mastery will serve up to 220 K-2 students at the former Washington Elementary School on Cambridge Street, which currently houses one of the district's Camelot programs.

Up to 380 students in kindergarten through grade five could attend Mastery's second temporary facility, at Pyne Poynt Family School, now a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, which currently uses only about half its building.

David Sciarra of the advocacy group Education Law Center says the Urban Hope Act requires a building plan for a newly constructed Renaissance facility and does not allow for a temporary location in a district school or the permanent takeover of one.

The statute says that within 10 days of approving the operators at the district level, the applications must be sent to the state and include "the proposed address and a description of proposed facility" and "schematic plans, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:26-5.3, for the prospective Renaissance school's proposed facilities."

The 10-day deadline was extended after the district filed a request for more time to conduct additional community meetings. No final word has yet come from the state. - Julia Terruso

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