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McKeesport board nixes charter school

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 7:10 a.m.

McKeesport Area school board has denied for the second time an application for the Young Scholars of McKeesport charter school to make its way into town.

In March, the district hosted a special meeting to take action on two charter school applicants, the Young Scholars of McKeesport and Leadership Academy of Math and Science. Both applicants were denied, and the Young Scholars initiative revised and resubmitted its application to open in the former St. Nicholas school, which housed a Propel Charter School in its early stages in McKeesport.

During Wednesday's board meeting, Superintendent Timothy Gabauer held up the original Young Scholars application, comparing it to the revised document in a binder three times its original size.

“The charter review team had really gone through the binder and looked at it very closely,” Gabauer said. “What has changed since the original application is that what was a lack of reference to a Standards Aligned System through the Pennsylvania Department of Education is now referenced in a variety of areas within the application.”

Those referenced, Gabauer said, fail to address the identified lack of a comprehensive curriculum that was discussed in March.

“What they have done in this particular application is gone to the PDE's Standards Aligned System and copied it and pasted,” he said. “It appears to be 800-1,000 pages of curriculum framework. There's a large difference between a curriculum framework and a curriculum. Framework does not include strategies. It does not include activities, time frames, resources or assessments.”

Gabauer and school director Trisha Gadson referenced the lack of genuine community support for this particular charter program. Residents of McKeesport Area communities — McKeesport, White Oak, Dravosburg, Versailles and South Versailles Township — have reported unethical solicitation of signatures for a petition to open the school.

“I have been in discussion with members of the community who have shared with me that when they were asked to sign that the way information was presented to them, they were not aware of what it was when they were signing,” Gadson said. “What looks like a lot of signatures by residents is somewhat misleading.”

Gabauer said there are many examples of that, including residents being followed to their cars and people being offered raffle opportunities for signing their names. Young Scholars representatives falsely stated that their charter program would bring relief to overcrowded McKeesport Area classrooms, he added.

Based on that discussion, the application was denied 7-0, with Joe Lopretto and Mark Holtzman absent.

McKeesport Area Education Association president Matthew Mols said district teachers are pleased with the board's second denial.

“The school board made the right decision,” he said. “The teachers are part of the charter review board, and we are in agreement that (the application) lacked the necessary academic focus.”

Officials of the Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania program, which applied for the McKeesport charter school, could not be reached by presstime.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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