Charter school proposes leasing space in Paterson Catholic building

June 22, 2011

Officials with the Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology said Tuesday that they are negotiating to move into the building occupied by the former Paterson Catholic High School.

The charter's principal, Riza Gurcanli, said his school for roughly 800 children in Grades 2 to 12 was growing to meet parents' demand. He hopes to move Grades 7 to 12 into the building at 764 11th Ave. in September. He wants to add a kindergarten and first grade, so the charter's 276 Wabash Ave. campus would house kindergarten through sixth grade. He expects to enroll more than 1,000 children in the fall if the move comes through.

Now 1,200 children are on the waiting list for the seven-year-old charter, which says it has a 100 percent graduation rate. Gurcanli said almost all the seniors were heading to college, many with scholarships. At a recent admissions lottery, he said, "You should have seen the parents cheering or crying" about whether their children got a seat.

The New Jersey School Report Card last year showed the school outperformed the district in most tested grades. At the charter, 29 percent of students failed the High School Proficiency Assessment in language arts and 57 percent failed in math. In regular schools in the district, 47 percent failed the test in language arts and 66 percent in math.

The Christie administration has made expanding charters a key goal, saying it's crucial to give families options, especially in troubled urban districts. But opponents argue that charters, which are taxpayer financed but independently operated, siphon money and talented students from regular public schools.

Many critics oppose charters in high-performing suburbs. An advocacy group called Save Our Schools planned rallies Tuesday night in Millburn, Highland Park and South Brunswick to push for bills that would require local voters to approve new charters and boost accountability measures.

In Paterson, Gurcanli said the school got approval for expanding two years ago and has been searching for space since then. He would not specify the cost of renting the Paterson Catholic building and said it was being negotiated. Paterson Catholic closed last year. Officials for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, which owns the building, did not comment for this story.

The charter's full board will vote at its meeting next Wednesday on whether to give the moving plan final approval, and the school must still obtain a certificate of occupancy from the city.

Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for Paterson schools, said the district would explore other opportunities for solving its space crunch. The building "was one of several options that we were exploring to help address facility challenges throughout the district," she said. "This particular facility was of interest to the district because it is equipped with certain features not readily available in other possible sites."