Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Charter School Adds Middle School Choice

A new charter school is targeting middle school students, aiming to enroll 160 by its opening in September. The same age group is also a target of an innovation by new Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III, who proposed last summer to convert one K-5 elementary school to K-8, starting this year with sixth-grade classes.

Gallon’s gambit was to give parents a choice, given that families seem to be OK with public schools until their children approach middle school age. Then it’s off to parochial, private or charter schools, a situation that has contributed to a 16 percent overall drop in enrollment over the past few years. Here’s a quote from Plaintalker:

“On the job only one week, Gallon revealed a plan to halt the exodus of young students from the district, presenting statistics that showed, among other things, the loss of 5th grade students from Cook and Cedarbrook schools in 2006-07 was 32 percent.The two schools will begin expanding from the traditional K-5 model to K-8 grade configurations, in part to stem the drop-off rate at middle school or below and also to explore a new K-8 model for urban districts that takes into account the needs of young adolescents for self-esteem and stability.The plan may go district-wide in the future. Its selling points are that it offers choices to parents who do not want their children to enter middle school, for fear of violence and other strains. The district is already competing with private and charter schools for young adolescent students.”

The Dr. Ellen G. Pressman Charter School will open with 60 students each in grades 6 and 7. Charter schools are public schools, receiving allotments of district funds minus some administrative costs. Most charter schools have themes, and the new school will emphasize “music and high academics,” according to announcements for its open house meetings. One took place Nov. 17 and another will be held at 7 p.m. Monday (Nov. 24, 2008) in the Community Room of the Plainfield Public Library. Mark Spivey filed a story for the Courier News on the school and its founders. It should appear in print and online tomorrow or Monday.

Middle schools in Plainfield have grades 6, 7 and 8, but also a reputation for trouble. Mixing pre-adolescents and adolescents in middle school and treating them all as what used to be called “junior high” students has fallen into disfavor among educators who feel the nurturing atmosphere of elementary school is best extended through eighth grade. Decades ago, all elementary schools were K-8 configurations.

So parents in Plainfield will have two new choices in September, in addition to other charter schools and existing middle schools. For a 2005 Plaintalker story on the other three charter schools in Plainfield, click here.

Some feel it is unfair that, of 21 municipalities in Union County, Plainfield should have all four of the charter schools in the county. The amount of public school money allocated to charter schools has increased significantly with each new opening. And even though they are public schools, the district has no relationship with them except to budget the funding and provide certain administrative functions. Charter schools report directly to the state Department of Education’s Charter School Division.

It was the state that shut down the city’s first charter school, Career Academy for Lifelong Learning and Achievement. At the closing, some parents said they would send their children to stay with relatives and be schooled outside Plainfield rather than put them in the public schools.

Gallon, on the job since July 1, rolled out a strategic plan that includes recapturing students from other venues. The district no longer includes school population counts in the Board of Education agenda, so there is no casual way to study trends.

Meanwhile, another charter school has announced an open house for next week. The Central Jersey Arts Charter School will launch applications for the 2009-10 school year with an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. at 35 Watchung Avenue. According to newspaper ads in English and Spanish, the school will take applications until Dec. 5, either online or dropped off at the school. As with all charter schools so far, enrollment will be set by lottery.

--Bernice Paglia


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