ARMSTRONG: School board denies request for charter school
March 12, 2013 10:40 AM

FORD CITY — An application to establish the Everlasting Elderton Charter School was denied Monday night after a brief discussion at the regular meeting of the Armstrong School District.

All but one of the directors, Royce Smeltzer, voted to deny the application. Smeltzer made a motion to approve it, but the motion died for lack of a second.

“I don’t feel that the educational opportunities have been increased” by the proposed charter school, said board President Joe Close.

Solicitor Lee Price presented the board with a 17-page document explaining the reasons for the denial, and said it will be mailed to the charter school’s founding board. The document was a collaboration between himself and the administration, and is the same as was distributed but not made public at the open caucus meeting Thursday.

It outlines a number of issues with the educational programs as described in the application, arguing that the micro-society curriculum outlined in the application is not tied back to common core standards, and that a framework showing how the classroom lessons and experiential opportunities would work together was “vague and lacks details.”

It also states that the “dismal” attendance at the public hearing in December shows a lack of community support, and that the letters of support were few, some were form letters and some were signed illegibly.

The charter school’s founding board issued a press release stating their intention to appeal the decision.

“Our dedication to the idea of a charter school in ASD will not stop. … The ASD denial of our charter is a setback, but it was anticipated, and we will continue fighting until another educational option is placed in ASD in the form of Everlasting Elderton Charter School,” they said.

“We have submitted a plan that offers increased educational opportunities for all students in ASD. … Unfortunately at this time, ASD does not feel that their students or taxpaying parents deserve another choice in education.”

Elderton-area residents started the effort to develop a charter school a year ago, after it became clear that Elderton Junior-Senior High School would be closed.

The application, filed on Nov. 14, focused on the idea of a micro-society curriculum, where students take the skills they learn in class (like math skills, for example), and apply them in a formalized fake society through buying and selling and setting up businesses. Generally it has been designed for elementary and middle school students.

A charter school is run with public funds — the money to educate a student follows that student from the district to the charter — but is independent from the school district. It has its own administration and school board; and it must have its charter renewed periodically.

State law governing charter schools gives a set of criteria by which an application may be approved or denied:

n Is there demonstrated, sustainable community support, including comments at the public hearing?

n Is the school able to provide support and planning for comprehensive learning experiences?

n Will the school increase learning opportunities and provide educational choices to parents and students and professional opportunities to teachers?

n Can the school serve as a model for other public schools?

There was little discussion Monday night. Director Chris Choncek said after reading the application and the additions submitted after the public hearing, there were “still so many questions with regard to education.”

In particular, Choncek said the application lacked clear plans for advanced placement classes, dual enrollment opportunities or gifted classes. And he said that while the idea of a micro-society curriculum and co-operative opportunities for students with local business was throughout the application, it wasn’t clear how it would be applied at the secondary level.

“It wasn’t real clear in the application where the opportunities exist,” he said.

Director Linda Walker said she thought the founding board was unrealistic in their expectations. For example, the application did not state which textbooks would be used, but they hoped to open the school for the coming school year.

“That’s unrealistic,” she said. “The needs of the students are not going to be met.”

After the meeting, Smeltzer said he would have approved the charter to fill a “void in the educational process in that area.”

“I think we need a (school) choice, especially in that area,” he said.

The meeting was mostly attended by members of the charter school’s founding board, two of whom addressed the board during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Bill Glover, of Rural Valley, said families have been leaving the area since Elderton Junior-Senior High School closed, and will continue to do so unless they have another option.

“We need that benefit of not losing any more (people), and the possibility of attracting them,” he said.

And Amanda Bartosiewicz, of Plumcreek Township, pointed out that an appeal process to the state appeal board could be costly and that, if the denial is overturned, the district could give up control of the charter to the state.

“We don’t want to appeal our application to the Charter School Appeals Board, but we are prepared to do so … you will give us no choice,” she said. “The EECS founding board has already voted to pursue every avenue available to us to get our charter approved.”

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