PATERSON, NJ – The state education department announced on Friday that it has approved two new charter schools in Paterson.
The new schools will be Paterson Arts and Sciences, a kindergarten through grade 8 school with an approved enrollment of 540, and Paterson Collegiate Charter School, a kindergarten through grade 5 school with approved enrollment of 548, according to a press release issued Friday evening. The Arts and Sciences school will be eligible to open in the 2013-2014 school year, while the Collegiate school has a scheduled 2014-15 opening.
The announcement did not say who the owners of the new schools would be, nor where they would be located. Barbara Morgan, a spokeswoman for the education department, said the schools’ applications, which would contain many details about their plans, will be available next week. Officals said the operators of the two schools had a "proven track record of success.'' The Collegiate school's operators have been running the Ascend charter school in Brooklyn, officials said.
"The development of high quality charter schools is one way we are expanding public school options and improving student achievement for our students in underserved communities," said Education Commissioner Chris Cerf in the press release.
Paterson already has three charter schools – Community Charter School of Paterson, John P. Holland Charter Schools and Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology.
In recent years, some city education advocates have expressed concerns about the charter schools, saying they would drain resources and top students from those run by the public school district. But others have argued that the charter schools provide Paterson parents with an attractive alternative to the poor-performing schools run by the city school district.
Last year, controversy erupted when there was talk that part of School 28 would be set aside for a charter school.
“They won’t try to pull this stuff in the suburbs, but they want to decimate the public schools in the inner cities,’’ said Board of Education member Jonathan Hodges.
“They probably want to sell one of our schools off to house them,’’ said Peter Tirri, president of the union that represents teachers in the city school district. “I have no doubt in my mind that what the department (of education) wants to do is break up Paterson Public Schools,’’ he said.
Hodges said his understanding was that the head of the Collegiate school was someone who came from the private school management company that Cerf once had been in charge of. Hodges said the apparent connect may have helped Collegiate’s application. “It raises some questions as to how they got approval.’’
Bob Guarasci, founder of Community charter, said he welcomed any new school that offered top-notch instruction for Paterson children. He said it was only a matter of time before the large charter operators, like those that plan to run Collegiate, moved into Paterson.
"I welcome a larger charter presence in Paterson,'' he said.
The two Paterson charter schools were the only ones in the state approved in the current round of applications, according to the education department.
A third school was rejected, Morgan said. Just those three had made it past the first phase screening process, she said.
The education department said the approvals demonstrated the Christie Administration’s strong support for increasing the number of high-quality school options for New Jersey students.
In order for the two Paterson schools to be granted a final charter, they must first complete a "preparedness review," the state’s press release said. That review is designed “to ensure they have the academic, operational, leadership and organizational capacity to successfully meet the needs of children through high quality academic programs, financial viability, equitability, and organization soundness,’’ said the press release.
After a review of the applicants' submission of this information in June 2013, the Commissioner will render a final approval decision on July 15 for charters to begin operation in September, the state said.
"We firmly believe that it is a privilege to operate a school in New Jersey, and as an authorizer we are committed to holding schools to high standards through our approval process and accountability measures,’’ Cerf said. “We believe the schools approved today will provide our students and families with excellent educational opportunities.”
The state continues to monitor charter schools after they open. As a result, the education department has closed five charter schools for poor academic performance or organizational and fiscal issues and placed another 17 schools on probation in the last two years.