Monday, August 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

'Renaissance' schools advance in Camden

CAMDEN Charter-school networks Mastery and Uncommon Schools took a step closer to opening charter-like "Renaissance" schools in Camden as the district's advisory school board voted Monday to move them forward in the process.

The two, which submitted preliminary applications for the hybrid charter-district schools, will now work with Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's administration to determine where they will locate and if they will build new schools or try to turn around existing ones. Finalized applications will be sent in March to the state, which has taken over the district.

"The community has gotten a good feel for the applicants and we're excited to see things moving forward," Rouhanifard said.

The board's action drew some heated public comment, mostly from members of Save Camden Schools, a group opposing charters and Renaissance schools. Speakers accused the board of discriminatory hiring and challenged whether charters and Renaissance schools work.

Keith Howell, a Woodrow Wilson High teacher for 19 years, said he was "tired of hearing how Uncommon and Mastery have dedicated teachers dedicated to the community, as if we have teachers at Woodrow Wilson who don't care. Just as an example, at Christmas and Thanksgiving we fed 23 families by taking up a collection," he said. "We care."

Mastery has proposed opening or turning around up to three elementary schools in Camden serving 1,800 students starting in the fall of 2014. It hopes to grow to 4,500 students in six K-12 schools by the fall of 2017.

Mastery has 15 nonprofit charter schools in Philadelphia serving 9,600 students in grades K-12. Ten of the schools in Philadelphia were former low-performing district schools.

Uncommon Schools operates 38 schools serving 10,000 students in Boston; New York City; Rochester and Troy, N.Y.; and Newark, N.J. The organization said in its proposal that it hopes to eventually run five K-12 schools with 75 students per grade, beginning with one in 2014. It, too, would prefer to renovate existing Camden public school facilities.

At the meeting, all board members except Sara Davis voted to move Mastery forward. On the resolution to advance Uncommon, Davis voted no and Barbara Coscarello abstained. A few attendees yelled "thank you" after the dissenting votes. - Julia Terruso

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