Education in the Media
Dept. of Education Approves only 4 of 60 Applicants to Open New N.J. Charter Schools.October 1, 2011
Nine months after endorsing the largest group of new charter schools in state history, the Department of Education Friday approved four applicants from a pool of nearly 60.
The schools will serve elementary and middle school students in Jersey City, Camden, Trenton and Cherry Hill and are scheduled to open in 2012 along with 21 other charter schools already approved that have yet to open.
Amir Khan, the principal founder of Regis Academy Charter School in Cherry Hill, said earning approval was an "honor."
"I thank God that we got approved," said Khan, the senior pastor at Cherry Hill’s Solid Rock Worship Center who also runs a private, Christian school associated with the church. "We applied last year, but our first application was denied."
Students at Regis Academy will follow an innovative curriculum known as MicroSociety, which challenges them to apply their learning to a simulated ‘real world.’ For example, students will select a form of government for the school and run businesses all while learning traditional English, math and science content.
The other three new schools approved are Beloved Community Charter School in Jersey City, Knowledge A to Z Charter School in Camden and Trenton Scholars Charter School. One will focus on character and leadership development, while the other two aim to replicate charter models that have already proven successful, such as the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).
The small number of approvals contrasts the record 23 new schools authorized by the state in January. The 54 applicants denied approval — including some proposed schools that have stirred debate in high-performing suburban districts — can re-apply by a mid-October deadline.
Tracey Williams has been applying to start a charter high school in Montclair for the past three years and said she believes the state’s standards are stacked against applicants looking to serve students in the suburbs. She was denied again this cycle.
"This is very frustrating, but we don’t want to give up because we believe this school is needed," Williams said. "The way the charters are approved, there is no rhyme or reason to it. If the state wants to deny you, they will look for a minor error and blow it up."
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said the four schools approved would help expand the option for New Jersey students, especially those in failing districts. He said the applications denied were all vetted using "disciplined" critieria.
"The very first bar that a charter applicant must clear is that the school has a high likelihood of providing an excellent education," Cerf said. "We are confident that all of the schools we approve will be successful."
For the first time, the state followed guidelines set by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers in deciding which applications to approve and deny, Cerf said.
The state has 80 independently-run, publicly-funded charter schools now, nine of which opened this school year. Most of these schools are in urban communities.
Wendy Saiff, the former president of Highland Park’s school board, said she is thrilled the state denied approval to "boutique" charter schools that sought to serve students in towns like Highland Park, Millburn, Short Hills and Livingston.
In Highland Park, founders of the Tikun Olam Charter High School wanted to offer a Hebrew-language immersion program. Other applicants denied this cycle by the state wanted to offer Mandarin Chinese-language immersion programs in other suburban districts.
"It’s important for our town that this school was denied," said Saiff, whose three children attended Highland Park’s public schools. "But if our tax dollars fund these schools, we should be able to vote on them."
A bill that would give communities the right to vote on new charter schools was approved by the state Assembly in June and is pending in the Senate.