CAMDEN, NJ — This fall when KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy (KCNA) High School opens its doors to 200 students, it will really be re-opening them.
School officials said the fact the former public school dedicated to former U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner is being restored as a renaissance school, is a sign of the collaboration at play in Camden.
“We know that a lot has changed in the landscape of education in this city over the years,” said Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs during a groundbreaking for the $18.5 million academy Monday morning.
“I am excited about the direction that our district is continuing to move in,” she continued. “My one key word is equity. To ensure that every child in the city, regardless of whether they are in a charter, a traditional public or renaissance school, has access to a high quality education.”
McCombs boasted that the Centerville school, first built in 1926, educated her mother, aunt and uncle — located close to where her grandparents lived in the original Branch Village apartments.
The new high school will offer technology-equipped classrooms, outdoor fields, and a full-production kitchen.
As of now, the interior of the building is receiving renovations, according to Jose Pacheco, director of real estate for KIPP.
The project will also include 95 parking spaces.
The school’s incoming principal, Stuart Warshawer, told TAPinto Camden that he’s excited for the school’s “comprehensiveness.”
“That includes athletics, arts, and technical education,” Warshawer said. “We want each kid to find what they're passionate about at the school. If you're a musician, awesome, we’ve got a band program. If you're an artist, great, there's an arts program. If you're an athlete, we have competitive sports. So that, plus rigorous academics, is the idea.”
Warshawer most recently served as the principal of Mastery Charter Schools at the middle and high school levels in Philadelphia for the past five years.
Students take the stage
KCNA will be KIPP Cooper Norcross’ fourth institution in Camden, and its third campus in the city. It currently operates KIPP Cooper Norcross Lanning Square Elementary and Middle School, and Kipp Cooper Norcross John Greenleaf Whittier Middle School.
KIPP Cooper Norcross High School will continue to bear Sumner’s name. Known as an academic lawyer and powerful speaker, Sumner was a leader of the Radical Republicans in the US Senate and spearheaded anti-slavery forces in Massachusets.
“It will be a much better place not only physically, but also there will be other opportunities for the very same young people who spoke today,” added McCombs.
Said individuals were high school students Izanee Bryant and Kevin Pellot.
Pellot, who wants to become a chemical engineer or forensic scientist, said, “I have big goals for high school and beyond. I want to take AP level classes...and go to a highly selective college.”
Bryant said she wants to become a business owner because, “I don’t like to be told what to do.”
Renaissance schools are charter-public school hybrids created under the Urban Hope Act. The schools are operated by independent, nonprofit charters, but are financed differently and serve students in the neighborhood in which they are located.
The school was possible through a partnership with KIPP, a national network of free, open-enrollment, college preparatory public charter schools, the Cooper Foundation — by extension Cooper University Health Care — and the Norcross Foundation.
During the ceremony, Mayor Frank Moran said facilities like the high school are possible because officials at all levels, “march to the same beat.”
“We are now being looked at as a model city, because things are happening after many, many years of folks saying, ‘It will never happen in the city of Camden,’” Moran said. “We prove them wrong because we have great leaders in great positions.”
School officials said they hope to ultimately serve roughly 800 students.
M&T Bank provided funds for the project, helped further by a $5.6 million anonymous donation.
"Camden has always been a great city [and] it's getting better with literally billions of dollars invested," said Congressman Donald Norcross during the ceremony. "The the most important thing is an investment in human capital. That's what we have here today. Yes, it's bricks and mortar...we appreciate that. But it's the capital of investing in our next generation. There's a lot of talk going on about infrastructure. Yes, it's about roads and bridges, but it's about investing in our children. That legacy for next generation. It should not depend on your zip code whether or not you have a quality education."