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Monday, October 25, 2010

Two new charter schools would further erode District's enrollment

The Plainfield school district would take a further hit in enrollment if two proposed new charter schools are approved by the state. The number of students attending classes in the district's buildings has already gone down by eight hundred from the 7,200-plus figure circulated in the early part of the decade, before the advent of Plainfield's charter schools.

The latest numbers are cited in Courier reporter Mark Spivey's story on the 'state of the district' presentation at last week's Board of Ed meeting -- see here -- showing the district with 6,448 students and 1,047 enrolled in the city's four charter schools.

New charter school proposals for Plainfield include the HOPE Leadership Academy application, with an opening enrollment threshold of 102 students in grades K-2. Projecting out, the school would be expected to max out at 204 students in K-5 in three academic years.

Contact person for the HOPE application is Anthony D. Kirkwood. Rumors have been circulating for some time that the Rev. Gary Kirkwood, whose King's Temple Ministries has worked out an agreement to take over the YWCA on East Front Street, has been interested in the space as a site for his private Christian academy.

A charter school would be funded by public monies, but any relationship with the church would come under public scrutiny as pointed out online today in an NJSpotlight story (see here), which points out --

...New Jersey is explicit in its regulations on charter schools. They cannot be operated by religious organizations, nor are they permitted to include religious instruction in the curriculum, the same as traditional public schools.

“Charters have been housed in church facilities, churches have raised funds to help charters and church members have volunteered their time,” said Alan Guenther, spokesman for the state Department of Education. But they remain public schools, governed by the same laws and regulations.”

And by and large, nationwide they have kept to those lines, experts say.

“It has been an area of some tension in the charter school movement, and there have been some instances where the boundaries were crossed,” said Katrina Bulkley, an associate professor of education at Montclair State University. “But on the whole, religious organizations are very aware of this concern and tried to keep them separate.”
The second Plainfield application, also for the elementary grades, is the CLASS Charter School (Character, Leadership, Academic and Social Skills) which if approved would open with a threshold of 160 students in grades K-3 and top out at 288 students in two academic years in grades K-5.

The contact person for that proposal is Benjamin Fox, listed with a Sparta, NJ address and contact information.

Together, if approved and successful in launching, the two charters would pull 262 students away from the District's enrollment in their first year and top out at 492 when they reach their enrollment caps.

Another charter school, not in Plainfield but involving a well-known Plainfield figure, is proposed for Trenton. The Visions of Destiny Academy for Academic Excellence is being championed by Bishop Herbert Bright, long active on the Plainfield scene and a member of the Black Ministers Conference according to the NJSpotlight report.

Clearly, every child enrolled in a charter school is a sign of a family that has given up hope for the public schools, and this is a great problem facing the public school districts -- the Ledger reported last week that a record number of 51 applications for new charter schools were received by the state (see here).

As a product of the public schools (though admittedly of a different time, place, and educational philosophy), I find the loss of faith in one of America's greatest contributions to democracy very distressing.

School boards of elected (or appointed), volunteer, non-education-professional (for the most part) residents have a heavy lift ahead in their communities if they are to reclaim the trust of their districts' families and stakeholders.

Are they up to it?

HOPE Leadership Academy for Academic Excellence of Plainfield Charter School
Focus / Students: K to grade 2: 102 to open
Projection /Students: K to grade 5: 204
232 East Front Street, Plainfield, NJ 07060
Telephone: 908-756-3500 ext. 175
FAX: 908-756-1304
Lead Person Email:
HostDistrict(s): Plainfield
Contact: Mr. Anthony D. Kirkwood


CLASS (Character, Leadership, Academic and Social Skills) Charter School
Focus / Students: K to grade 3: 160 to open
Projection /Students: K to grade 5: 288
58 Summit Road, Sparta, NJ 07871
Telephone: 908-464-4878
FAX: 908-753-7740
Lead Person Email:
HostDistrict(s): Plainfield
Contact: Mr. Benjamin Fox

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Anonymous said...

It's amusing that Mr. Benjamin Fox used to be the principal of Central Jersey Arts Charter School. He was a terrible administrator there, but I guess he felt there was more money to be had by opening a school then running one. One thing I did know of the man, he couldn't control a group of pre-schoolers, much less a whole school. I feel sorry for the poor people that buy into the garbage that they will be better off at a charter school. My child had bruises from being beat up, and Mr. Fox didn't call the police. What does that tell you about his level of competence?