Armstrong School District plans hearing on Elderton charter school
By Tim Karan
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Elderton is one step closer to breathing life into its proposed charter school.
Armstrong School District has announced a public hearing to discuss the possible opening of Everlasting Elderton Charter School at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 27 at Lenape Elementary School in Ford City.
The school's founding board filed a formal application with ASD on Nov. 14, and ASD board president Joe Close said the district was mandated to conduct a hearing before Dec. 29.
“It's basically to get input from the community,” said Close.
“School board members will be there and can comment or ask questions if they have any. But it's really all kind of new to us. The board has had no discussion on it and this will probably be the first time we initiate any talks about it. We'll be looking to our solicitor for a lot of answers.”
Superintendent Stan Chapp said he had no comment on the issue.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a charter school is “an independent public school established and operated under a charter from the local school board” — which, in this case, would be ASD. Any student who resides in Pennsylvania would be eligible to apply for admission to the charter school which would receive funding from the state and local level.
Catherine Ernest-Fouse, president of Everlasting Elderton's founding board, said she and other local residents began researching the charter school option last spring as ASD began seriously discussing the potential closing of Elderton Junior-Senior High School. The school previously had been shut down for the 2009-10 school year and the board voted to permanently close it again last June.
“The true motivation for the charter school is to provide academics,” said Ernest-Fouse. “That's why you create a charter school: to provide individualized and community-based learning.”
Everlasting Elderton, which would house K-12 students under one roof with the same daily start and stop times, would be bound to state assessment tests like the Keystone Exams and would have to meet and exceed Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) just like district schools—only with a more specialized approach to education.
“The teaching methodology at a charter school is more flexible,” said Ernest-Fouse. “To get approved, the (charter school) has to have a unique idea about education that is not already done within the school district. Ours would be ‘community-based schooling.' With the closing of Elderton (Junior-Senior High School), there is no community-based schooling here.”
The charter school would offer its own sports teams and activities when possible, but if opportunities are limited, students also would be eligible to participate in offerings at Armstrong School District or wherever their home district may be. Ernest-Fouse said ASD, Apollo-Ridge, Marion Center and Indiana school districts would be obligated to provide transportation to Everlasting Elderton students the same as they would their own because each district is within 10 miles of the proposed Elderton location. She believes the ideal setting for the charter school would be the space in the Elderton complex formerly used by Elderton Junior-Senior High. That plan, though, has hit snags.
“We had to get a letter of intent from (ASD) and they wouldn't give it to us,” she said. “So we also have a letter of intent for another building in Plumcreek. But we'd really like to negotiate with ASD to utilize that building.”
The issue will undoubtedly be among those raised during the hearing which Plumcreek resident Paula Byers stressed that concerned citizens should make a point to attend.
In a letter to the editor, Byers wrote, “ASD has continuously put the Elderton complex on the back-burner and the decisions of the current school board majority show no plans for the building. There are plenty of you that supported the demise of Elderton High School.
So why not come out and support it going to the community?”
The ASD board must approve or deny Everlasting Elderton's application 45 to 75 days after the hearing.
State charter school law says the board must make its decision based on local support for the proposal along with other factors like the ability of the charter to offer a comprehensive and innovative learning experience.
Should ASD oppose the creation of the charter, it must provide specific reasons for the denial.
The board of Everlasting Elderton could then make an appeal if it collects the signatures of 1,000 residents or 2 percent of the district.
However, Ernest-Fouse said a small number of pre-enrolled students is not a valid reason for ASD to deny the charter.
“They can't base their decision on that,” she said.
“But if (the ASD board) does deny the application, we're prepared to appeal to the state if necessary. I abide by the philosophy to expect the worst and hope for the best.”
Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing can reserve time by making a formal request to board secretary Linda Ambrose at the administration building in Manor or by calling 724-763-5269.
Those who don't reserve a time will be heard in order of a sign-up sheet at the hearing.
Written comments received before Jan. 10 will also be put on the record.
Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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