Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category

Legislators spar over vouchers, spending for charter schools

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment





A proposal to create taxpayer-funded school vouchers in Pennsylvania may have suffered a fatal blow for this legislative year.

But Republican lawmakers hope they can revive another one of Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed education initiatives in the coming months.

“The issue is not dead. We have to still do a reform package on charter and cyber charters,” said state Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, chairman of the House Education Committee. “The whole idea is to have a fair and balanced package sometime this year that we can present to the committee and then to the General Assembly.”

But some Republicans disagree on what that final charter school package should look like.

State Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, voted against the charter school legislation Wednesday. He’s pushing legislation that would likely decrease funding for cyber charter schools, limit how much they can spend on advertising, and require the state to enforce minimum online and offline hours for students.

“They’re public schools. They’re here to stay,” said Fleck, a former Southern Huntingdon County school board member and current member of the House Education Committee. “But they need to be held to the same requirements as our regular public school system.”

State Rep. Dan Truitt, RChester, has two children enrolled at Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School in a program that blends online classes with brick-and- mortar classes. Also a member of the House Education Committee, Truitt is opposed to the idea of changing the funding formula for cyber charter schools

.“I’m very concerned about the Fleck legislation — that he’s going to accidentally break a good thing,” said Truitt.

The charter and voucher-school legislation failed with a 105-90 vote. Truitt plans to seek out the 20 Republicans who broke ranks with their party to help shoot down the plan.

“What I figure I’m going to have to do is hunt down each one of these people one at a time and find what held them back, what were their reservations,” said Truitt. “I’m looking at this list, trying to understand what the pattern is, and I don’t see anything that I can firmly grasp and say, ‘Aha, that’s where things went wrong.’ ”

The issue is especially relevant in Centre County.

State College Area School District spends more on charter schools than 95 percent of other Pennsylvania school districts. The county has four brick-and-mortar charter schools. The nearby Sugar Valley Rural Charter School typically draws 20 to 30 students fromthe Penns Valley Area. And Centre County students also attend cyber charter schools, including Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which opened a satellite office in Bellefonte this summer.

Read more: Legislators spar over vouchers, spending for charter schools.


Wonderland charter school gets OK to expand

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment




STATE COLLEGE — Wonderland Charter School will accept first, second-and third-grade students starting this September, as the State College Area school board approved expansion plans Monday night.

“We’re very pleased,” Wonderland Charter School CEO Hal Ohnmeis said. “It’s been a very collaborative effort.”

Wonderland board member Michael Pusateri said he was “very happy. I wish we were in a position to have expanded when my kids were younger.”

Ohnmeis and other leaders from the Ferguson Township charter school have been working on expanding for two-and-a-half years and they’ve been in talks with the district since December.

While they waited for a decision, they ordered curriculum material and interviewed more than 40 teachers for three openings — two new ones, and the other to replace a teacher who’s leaving. Ohnmeis said they’ll be ready to open Sept. 6.

Read more: Wonderland charter school gets OK to expand.

Sidebars from charter school series

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Making the grade? Part 6: Need for high school debated

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Wonderland Charter School teacher Addie Rockwell works with kindergarten students. The region’s charter schools have cautiously considered expansions, fearing growth could tarnish their small school charm. CDT PHOTO/NABIL K. MARK


FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2011


Rachel Eirmann didn’t want to leave Centre Learning Community Charter School.

“I will REALLY miss my friends next year (we are all going to different high schools), but I will keep in touch with them,” Eirmann, from Pleasant Gap, wrote in a goodbye message posted on the school’s blog.

“I already have half of their phone numbers. … I will be calling them so that my group of friends and I don’t split up. I will miss CLC so much … it was the best school ever!”

To be clear, lots of students in district-run schools say they love their schools, too. But the appreciation that students like Eirmann have for Centre Learning Community Charter or other schools often leads to a question from parents: Why doesn’t Centre County have a charter school for high school students?

Although about half of the state’s charter schools serve students in grades nine or beyond, none of the county’s four charters go beyond eighth grade.

“High school is a totally different ball game,” said Levent Kaya, CEO of Young Scholars of Central

Pennsylvania Charter School.

There are several logistical challenges to opening a high school charter. It would have to attract teachers qualified to teach, say, high school physics; compete with the comprehensive

programs of district-run schools such as State College, which offers classes from engineering to Latin as well as its own alternative education program; and otherwise wade into uncharted territory.

“We’ve surveyed the parents on a regular basis to ask what they think. And there’s always a couple who want us to add kindergarten. And there’s always a couple who want us to add high school,” said Carolyn Maroncelli, CEO Nittany Valley Charter School, which has 48 students in first through eighth grades. “In general, I’m very leery about getting bigger, because what we do best is be small.”

Read more: Need for high school debated.

Making the grade? Part 5: Parents of charter school students praise alternatives to districts

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Teacher Mark Toci shows Veronika Vovchenko, center, and other students how to work on a bike chain while teaching a unit on building a recumbent bicycle. Centre Learning Community Charter School is located at 2643 W. College Ave. in State College. CDT/Nabil K. Mark




The bullying started after elementary school for Davia Dorman. Her mother, Laura Dorman, worked with school leaders to address the issues, and said the teacher went above and beyond the call of duty to try to help. But still the bullying continued.

“She was really overwhelmed and intimidated,” Laura Dorman said.

So Dorman pulled her daughter out of the Penns Valley Area School District and started looking at alternatives.

In interviews, parents and children offer a variety of reasons for leaving Centre County’s district-run schools — which perform above average or better on state tests — for charter schools.

Some leave because they have specific problems with a school. Others are drawn to the charter schools because of what they offer academically, whether it is more foreign languages, a laptop for every student or a smaller community.

Geography can play a role, too. In 2003, when the Penns Valley Area school board considered closing Miles Township Elementary School, some parents said they’d send their children to Sugar Valley Rural Charter School if the school closed.

“I feel that every parent, every student, has a plan in mind,” said Jeanne Knouse, a State College administrator who acts as a liaison between the district and local charter schools. “I think each charter school has something different and has something we don’t, just as we have something that they don’t.”

Read more: Parents of charter school students praise alternatives to districts.

Making the grade? Part 4: The value of testing

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment




During the past decade, Penns Valley Area School District has increased its scores on state standardized tests — so much so that former Gov. Ed Rendell honored Penns Valley as one of the 50 most improved districts in the state in August 2009.

Last year, 11th-grade students at Penns Valley ranked in the top 15 percent of the state in both reading and math.

But success, as measured by No Child Left Behind, hasn’t prevented students from leaving for charter schools.

The number of Penns Valley students opting for charter schools has increased during the past decade, and depending on the figures you use, has increased slightly or stayed flat for the past three years.

Between 5 and 6 percent of students in the district attend charter schools, a higher percentage than in any other Centre County district. Earlier this year, 83 Penns Valley students were enrolled in a charter school.

Of those, 21 attended Sugar Valley Rural Charter School, where 11th-grade math and reading scores rank in the bottom 10 percent of the state.

Twenty-six attended Pennsylvania Cyber Charter, an Internet school where 11th-grade math scores are in the bottom 15 percent of the state.

“It is frustrating,” Penns Valley Superintendent Brian Griffith said. “It’s frustrating when charter schools are underperforming local school districts and local school districts and local taxpayers are still required to pay the bill.”

The debate over who does a better job of educating students — charter schools or public school districts — has escalated in recent months.

Proposals to offer vouchers for private schools, to reform the charter school system, and a decision to stop reimbursing districts for a share of their charter school costs has prompted leaders of local school districts to fight back.

“Did you know that your public schools largely perform better in math and reading than charter and cyber schools?” the announcer intones during an advertisement the local districts helped pay to create. “There are many questions about charter and cyber schools that you probably never knew to ask.”

The question of which type of school does a better job, however, varies from school to school and parent to parent.

Read more: The value of testing.

 Sixth grader Natalie Healy writes in her journal about a book she is reading. Nittany Valley Charter School is located at 1612 Norma St. in State College. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

Making the grade? Part 3: Charter costs at heart of debate

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment


TUESDAY, JULY 19, 2011


One math teacher and one former math teacher walked into the Bellefonte Area Middle School cafeteria one night this spring and made their pitch.

“We need your support,” said Brian Griffith, who began his career teaching high school math and is now the Penns Valley Area School District superintendent.

He continued: “I’m going to tell you that I think competition, in general, has made us better. I’m going to tell you that I really believe in a lot of No Child Left Behind — so I might be stepping on some toes, but we had no way of measuring our success before. But I can tell you that as a taxpayer, I’m a bit upset when my money is going to a school system that is failing. And many of our charter schools are.”

The meeting marked a new chapter in the competition between charter schools and traditional public schools.

Griffith and Bellefonte Area High School math teacher Shaun McMurtrie were asking Bellefonte school board members to participate in a new marketing and advertising campaign to compete with charter schools.

They planned to launch a website, organize a rally, sell buttons, create advertisements and coordinate activities through Central Intermediate Unit 10, a regional educational service agency. Griffith asked each district to contribute $4,000.

“It is an unprecedented move that the (Intermediate Unit is) doing, getting all of us together,” said McMurtrie, a teacher at Bellefonte Area High School and union rep, “and it’s been a really interesting opportunity.”

Read more: Charter costs at heart of school debate.

Mary Michaluk works on reading with first grader Keller Greenland. Nittany Valley Charter School is located at 1612 Norma St. in State College. CDT/Nabil K. Mark CDT/NABIL K. MARKBuy Photo