Camden officials are making changes to three schools in the city's Parkside neighborhood next fall, including moving students at MetEast High School into the building that houses Cooper B. Hatch Family School.
The relocation means that the 150 students at MetEast, one of the city's two magnet high schools, will have an in-house auditorium and gym for the first time, said Brendan Lowe, a spokesman for the state-run district. Hatch students will have access to MetEast's Big Picture Learning model, which encourages youths to complete internships and senior projects with the goal of preparing them to pursue college and careers.
In the coming years, the schools will operate under one name - Hatch-MetEast - and serve students in grades six through 12. Meanwhile Parkside's Forest Hill Elementary, which now serves kindergarten through eighth grade, will next year serve students through fifth grade only.
Last year, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard changed five city schools into charter-public "Renaissance" schools, an announcement that sparked concern among some teachers and residents that he planned to quickly eradicate the remainder of Camden's traditional public schools. This year, no additional conversions will be made, Lowe said, in part to allow the newly formed schools time to settle, but also largely because Rouhanifard believes that schools across the district are improving.
"It's going to take a long time, but we see incremental progress," Lowe said. "It's encouraging, and we want to support that."
Just under 10,000 students attend traditional public schools in Camden. About 2,200 are enrolled in the new Renaissance schools, with 4,000 more attending charter schools.
Unlike charter schools, Renaissance schools guarantee seats to every child in the school's neighborhood, and must operate in new or renovated buildings. Renaissance schools are publicly funded but privately operated, and have contracts with the district mandating services such as special education.
The decisions regarding the Parkside schools were inspired by feedback from parents, Lowe said, as well as by declining student enrollment at Hatch and longtime concerns about the suitability of the MetEast building. There were no first-grade students at Hatch this year, he said, which left at least an entire floor of the building empty.
At MetEast, there is no gym or auditorium, and students must huddle in the lobby to hear announcements. The layout requires people to walk through classrooms to get from one end of the building to another, technology such as WiFi often doesn't work, and the lake across the street frequently floods.
Forest Hill was once solely an elementary school, and some parents in the neighborhood told school officials they would prefer that it return to that model. With fewer grades, officials hope students will get more personalized attention.
"This was a fortunate situation in which we could accommodate a lot of different feedback at once," Lowe said.