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10-2-12 Charters and Anti-Bullying 'Respect Week' in the News

  • NJ Spotlight - State Gives Preliminary Go-Ahead to Two New Charter Schools…Newark academy would be first under new law allowing private-to-public conversions
  • The Record - N.J. education commissioner kicks off anti-bullying "Week of Respect" in Teaneck…

NJ Spotlight - State Gives Preliminary Go-Ahead to Two New Charter Schools…Newark academy would be first under new law allowing private-to-public conversions

By John Mooney, October 2, 2012 in Education|2 Comments

The Christie administration continues to be picky about new charter schools, with just two applications approved in the latest round announced yesterday -- one in Newark and one in Camden.

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If it receives its final charter, the Newark school would be the first approved under a new law allowing existing private schools to convert to charter schools. The new school would be Philip’s Academy Charter School, a renaming of St. Philip’s Academy, a well-established independent school in the city’s Central Ward.

The Camden application is for the International Academy of Camden, an elementary school founded by a group of New Jersey entrepreneurs and likely to be run by a private education management organization.

Among those under discussion is the operator of the Ascend Learning charter schools in New York City, but one of the founders of the Camden school stressed that others are also being considered in a public bidding process.

Both plans must go through a final evaluation in the coming year, before final charters are awarded. Both are slated to open in 2013-2014.

The new round of approvals is the smallest in any single round of applications in New Jersey, following a trend as the Christie administration has significantly scaled back its support of new charters in the face of considerable public backlash.

In the first round of charter applications after Christie’s election in 2009, more than 20 were approved. But the numbers have dropped considerably, after protests mostly from suburban communities that did not want the experimental schools drawing their students or siphoning their money. Charter schools are operated outside the control of local districts, but paid for by district funds.

“By holding a high bar for any new school we approve, we are following through on our commitment to ensuring that we not only provide options for students, but that we provide high-quality options for students,” said state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf in an early-evening press release announcing the two approvals.

The preliminary approval of the Philip’s Academy school in Newark is new territory for the state – the law allowing private schools to become public schools was passed just last year. Proposed regulations for such transitions have not even been finalized by the state Board of Education.

The school in Newark was established in 1988 under unique circumstances. According to the school’s history, posted online, a philanthropist had offered scholarships to two city students to attend the prestigious St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, but there were few Newark students able to qualify.

The late Dean Dillard Robinson and the congregants of Newark’s famed Trinity and St. Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral then founded St. Philip’s Academy as an elementary school that would better prepare Newark students for such high-level secondary schools. Starting with just 10 students, it grew to include 334 last year in kindergarten through eighth grade.

In its application to become a charter school, the school said it would start with 372 students in the first year. It would be able to retain its current students until they leave or graduate, but new students would then come from Newark, Irvington and East Orange, where more than half of the current enrollment resides.

With more than 70 percent of students receiving financial assistance, the school’s stated mission is “to provide a rigorous and moral education to children of the city of Newark and its environs regardless of their ability to pay tuition, enabling them upon graduation to be successful at the most selective secondary schools in the nation, thereby contributing to the revitalization of the city of Newark,” read the application.

“It is our intention to integrate our successes of the past 24 years to the charter school landscape in Newark,” it said.

St. Philip’s would not be the first independent school to struggle to survive in Newark on tuitions and contributions alone. The Chad School in Newark closed in 2005 under economic duress. In an interview last night, the head of St. Philip’s, Miguel Brito, said fundraising had been very strong at the school, but it was a difficult model to sustain for a school in a city such as Newark.

“This blended model of public and private funding was the best way of continuing to provide these opportunities to students,” Brito said.

The Camden school’s launch would be more typical for New Jersey’s charter schools -- beginning from scratch. It is the brainchild of a group of New Jersey’s business and civic leaders seeking to improve education opportunities. Camden was a natural place to start, said one of its founding board members.

“The simple but powerful answer is need,” said Michael Harp, a marketing consultant from Lebanon Township. “The statistics from there (Camden) would make a grown man cry.”

The school would start in kindergarten through third grade with 350 students, he said, and grow to nearly 700 students, with kindergarten through sixth grades.

Harp said the Camden school plans to contract with a management organization to run the school, and Ascend Learning is among those under discussion. Ascend runs a well-known network of five charter schools in Brooklyn, and also plans to apply for a charter in Paterson, according to its website. Harp stressed that a “request for proposal” process would likely include up to a dozen organizations bidding for the contract.


The Record - N.J. education commissioner kicks off anti-bullying "Week of Respect" in Teaneck… “Vainieri-Huttle (Assemblywoman, D-Englewood, primary sponsor of the anti-bullying law) asked the students to raise their hands if they had been bullied, knew someone who had been bullied or witnessed bullying. Most of the students in the room put their hands in the air…”



TEANECK — New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf kicked off the second annual “Week of Respect” against bullying in the state’s public schools on Monday with an assembly at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Cerf was joined by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, the primary sponsor of an anti-bullying law hailed as one of the toughest in the nation, as well as school officials and representatives from Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest gay rights group. Cerf told students about the courage it takes to be kind and to stand up for what is right.

Vainieri-Huttle asked the students to raise their hands if they had been bullied, knew someone who had been bullied or witnessed bullying. Most of the students in the room put their hands in the air.

“Just as I thought,” she said.

“We all know it is a big deal,” she said of bullying. “And we all know those kids who are afraid to go to school or are afraid to walk by their classmates because of fear of being teased, fear of being shoved, fear of being spit on, fear of being bullied. That should not happen here in schools.”

Similar assemblies were held at public schools across the state as districts celebrated a “Week of Respect,” which was created as part of the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. Districts will teach age-appropriate lessons on harassment, intimidation and bullying.

The bill was passed in the wake of the 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him as he kissed another man.

The roommate, Dharun Ravi, was convicted in March on 15 counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, and served 20 days of a 30-day sentence.

The anti-bullying law requires school employees to report incidents of harassment to the principal the day that information is received. A written report must be provided within two days, and an investigation must be completed within 10 days of the initial written report to the principal. The law also covers acts of harassment that occur off school property.

Teaneck Schools Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said the law has encouraged more students to report perceived incidents of harassment, bullying and intimidation. One of the district’s goals, she added, is to reduce the number of verified complaints to zero.

“As a school district, we are committed to your education and we are committed to making you feel safe and comfortable in school,” she said. “We are not perfect; we are not where we want to be at all, but we are moving in the right direction.”

Huttle said the Legislature is waiting for statistics on the law’s first year to review the outcomes of the reported incidents.

“This is important to change the culture for our kids and to make sure they are in an environment where they feel safe and they are able to learn,” she said. “They will understand that harassment, intimidation and bullying will not be tolerated.”

Cerf said he is pleased with how the legislation has been implemented, despite a few difficulties.

“I think perhaps the most powerful part of the law is that we are all talking about this issue,” he said. “We are talking about it with ourselves, we are talking about it with kids, and kids, as you saw from that assembly, are internalizing that and are engaging in the subject, and I believe it is changing their behavior.”

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, hosted a mock quiz show based on the law. Students were also tested on how they would respond to specific incidents of bullying.

The assembly wrapped up with Joel Basking, the district’s anti-bullying specialist, leading the students in the school’s pledge of respect.

With right hands raised, they vowed to treat all people and other living things with kindness and respect, to stand up for themselves and others if they were mistreated, and to always try to do the right thing.

“What do we say when we see someone making another human life miserable?” Basking asked.

“We don’t do that here,” they responded.

Email: superville@northjersey.com

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608

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