Camden Update: Parents are Thrilled By Renaissance Schools; Anti-Choice Lobbies Threaten Action

So, how’s it going at Camden Public Schools, where three new renaissance schools – hybrid district/charter schools run by non-profit operators KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon – opened this week? Under-enrolled? Community opposition? Drill and kill?

From the Courier-Post:
The city's first newly built Renaissance school has dozens of classrooms on three floors, a gym big enough for two basketball courts and an all-purpose room that comfortably seats hundreds of uniformed students.
But despite all that, the 110,000-square-foot KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy can't meet the demand for its services.
"We are overenrolled, with a waiting list of about 360 kids," Drew Martin, the academy's executive director, said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, this year we won't be able to add space for everyone."
And from KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy mom Siomara Pesante,
"I think it's great, and she says she loves it," said Pesante, noting her 5-year-old, Symelia Shields, had run back to hug her teacher.
If not for the Urban Hope Act (which authorized renaissance schools in Camden, Newark, and Trenton), Symelia would be starting kindergarten at Whittier Family Schools. There, according to the DOE’s most recent School Performance Report, 83% of third-graders failed basic skills tests in language arts and 80% failed basic skills tests in math; 88% of fifth-graders there failed both tests.

So everyone’s happy, right? Parents and children are, but that’s not stopping New Jersey’s three core anti-reform lobbying groups from mounting challenges to Camden’s efforts to expand school options and increase student achievement.

Tweet from Education Law Center:
Mastery, Uncommon & KIPP chains first year in Camden show student segregation, under-enrollment
NJEA’s formal complaint against the New Jersey Department of Education:
On April 8th, 2015, the Commissioner of Education granted the application of the Superintendent of the Camden Public School District to close five District schools and, at the same time, granted permission for five renaissance schools to serve as a primary school for students who previously attended the five to be closed schools and for all students who would attend those schools in September but for their closure(s). For several reasons the Commissioner of Education’s actions violated applicable statutes and regulations
Save Our Schools NJ:
Save Our School-NJ requests that Commissioner Hespe reject the Mastery and Uncommon Schools applications for renaissance school projects in Camden because they violate the Urban Hope legislation and regulations.
This is the conundrum facing any New Jersey resident who cares about public education, especially in our chronically-failing districts. NJEA, Education Law Center, and Save Our Schools profess to care about kids. But instead of celebrating families’ opportunities for school options they undermine them, sacrificing student achievement on the altar of the status quo.

They have their reasons, of course. NJEA resents the fact that renaissance schools aren't required to hire union members. Education Law Center thinks it's protecting the antiquated Abbott funding rules that send $24K per year per student to Camden. Save Our Schools resents any infringement on local control, an anthemic sentiment in a highly-segregated school system like N.J. where, seven miles away from Camden, kindergartners residing in prosperous Cherry Hill attend uniformly excellent schools.

That's fine. But if these groups had their way, Symelia Pesante would be enrolled in Whittier Family School.

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