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Plum School Board nixes participation in multi-district charter school

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 11:51 p.m.

Plum School Board members Monday night gave a thumbs down to joining with the Gateway and Penn Hills school districts to form a charter school.

Board members Sal Colella, Kevin Dowdell, Shane McMasters, Loretta White and Richard Zucco during an education committee meeting expressed concerns about the proposed partnership that would result in the conversion of the Boyce Campus Middle College High School into a charter school that would enable students to earn an associate's degree while they received their high school diploma.

The program is proposed to be called High School and Beyond Charter School.

“I don't support it,” Colella said. “Our school district is unique in the east. We provide an excellent education, and we have invaluable resources in our teachers. I don't see any upside for the students. Maybe there are (benefits) for the other school districts.”

Penn Hills Superintendent Thomas Washington, whose district has the most students enrolled in the Boyce program, said he felt there were a lot of benefits.

“It looks like we're not going to move forward on the charter school, but hopefully we'll still have the Boyce Campus Middle College,” Washington said. “This (charter idea) was something new and out-of-the-box to try and compete with some of the other charter schools.”

Glasspool, who had discussions about the proposal over the summer with officials in the Gateway and Penn Hills school districts, said he would notify Gateway officials that Plum's board members do not support the concept.

Glasspool said the Gateway School Board next month plans to vote on the proposal. He said Gateway would make application for the charter because the school would be in Monroeville. A vote also is expected by the Penn Hills School Board.

If the Gateway board votes to make application for the charter and receives it, students from Plum could still attend the school. Glasspool said the district, though, will not have a seat on the governing board.

The superintendent said the discussion about a charter school began as a result of questions about the future of the middle college high school that is in its 17th year and operates as an alternative school for sophomores, juniors and seniors from Gateway, Penn Hills and Plum.

A fourth district — Woodland Hills — pulled out of the program last year. The Gateway board last year considered withdrawing as well but voted to keep the program this year.

The school has 104 students this year — 47 from Penn Hills, 27 each from Gateway and Plum and three students from other districts.

Glasspool said Plum's participation would have other benefits as well.

“It would save the BCMC program,” Glasspool said.

“It's only a matter of time before someone builds a secondary (charter) school in the east. Also, the associate's degree is unique.”

Colella prefers that Plum “develop a robust college-credit strategy for high school juniors and seniors.”

Zucco also expressed doubts about the proposed program.

“We have a few kids going to cyber school compared to (more) from Gateway and Penn Hills,” Zucco said.

“And some of our students have come back. Our school district is better than those two. They need us more than we need them.”

Washington said he will continue making a push to keep the Boyce Campus Middle College program, and Penn Hills officials have plans to explore more cyber-education options.

“I think it's a way of reaching out and providing choice for our students,” he said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com. Staff writer Patrick Varine contributed to this report.

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