Guest Post from Red Bank Charter School Principal Meridith Pennotti

When Red Bank Charter School opened its doors in 1997, it was a result of parents and community stakeholders coming together to meet the demand for higher-quality school options than what was available in the public district schools at the time. Since then, Red Bank Charter School has operated with fidelity to the New Jersey Charter School Act of 1995, which requires the school to provide access to an alternative program for the diverse population of every school-age child of Red Bank. The diverse student body and strong school culture provide an optimal environment for learning and social development. Red Bank Charter school outperforms 73% of all (traditional and charter) elementary schools in the state of New Jersey and has been classified as a Tier 1 school by the NJ Department of Education (DOE).

Ranked 7th among N.J. charter schools and in the top 25% of Monmouth County public schools, Red Bank Charter School has the potential to offer tremendous opportunity to Red Bank’s children. In order to serve more students, Red Bank Charter School submitted an amendment request to the DOE to educate an additional 200 children in Red Bank with the implementation of a weighted lottery that preferences economically disadvantaged students in order to more-closely represent the Red Bank demographics. We are committed to our community, and every child within it. It is the right of every child to have access to a high-quality education and there is sound evidence to support expansion of our Tier 1, tuition-free, public school. Red Bank Charter School has demonstrated academic achievement and success, it proposes a weighted lottery, parents have a right to choose, facility availability, and financial resources are all factors that support Red Bank Charter School’s expansion.

While Red Bank Charter School is one of the highest-performing charter schools in the state, we are also one of the smallest. Our size hampers our ability to effect change for Red Bank’s children. Our most recent PARCC data illustrates that Red Bank Charter School students outperformed Borough students in 10 out the 12 PARCC assessments taken in grades 3-8 in 2015 (5 out of 6 in ELA; 5 out of 6 in Math). In Grades 4-7, Red Bank Charter School students more than doubled the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the Math assessment as compared to Red Bank Borough and the 49% of Red Bank Charter School students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded expectations on the ELA assessment. In the first year of PARCC, Red Bank Charter School scored within one point of the statewide average in both ELA and Math and on the previous NJ ASK exams, Red Bank Charter School students not only outperformed district peers, but also outperformed their peers statewide closing the achievement gap.

Our desire is not to compare students in one school versus another—although the DOE requires charter schools to outperform district schools in order to remain open and continue educating students—a standard to which no public school is held accountable. Our goal is to ensure that every Red Bank child is provided the academic environment and opportunity to succeed. It is the reason Red Bank Charter School was established in 1997 and why we seek expansion now. The student population of the district has grown and our enrollment is limited to 200 students. Expansion not only serves the children of Red Bank, it also provides needed reprieve to the Red Bank Borough School District which is overcrowded.

Education should not be left to chance, parents must be free to exercise choice, and educational funding belongs to the student, not the school. Yet, each year Red Bank Charter School is filled to capacity at 200 students with a robust waiting list. The current 200-student cap effectively removes choice from parents and limits the academic impact Red Bank Charter School can have for students in the community. For this reason, we have requested a weighted lottery in our charter amendment. This will allow us to more closely represent the demographics of Red Bank and its resident population and provide economically disadvantaged students with increased opportunity to attend Red Bank Charter School. As educational innovators, it is incumbent upon us to be responsive to parents and children who want to exercise their right to school choice.

New Jersey’s charter schools must finance their facilities out of the monies they receive from their general funding, whereas school districts are provided facilities. This small but important distinction means that the Red Bank Charter School must identify, acquire and pay for any facility it plans to use. Charter schools cannot build new facilities or have a referendum as the district can, which is why the district’s gymnasium is one of the state’s largest and Red Bank Charter School students do not have gymnasium access. We must find and finance all of our land and buildings.

Last year, we secured lease space at 135 Monmouth Street for a STEM lab and additional classrooms. Although facilities often present enormous hurdles for many charter schools, Red Bank Charter School is prepared to accommodate a growing population with ample instructional space and sufficient parking. This building will also be able to provide a gymnasium for the students.

Red Bank Charter School’s success is evident in its ability to educate students, meet the standards set forth in the Charter School Performance Framework (a state accountability measure), and demonstrate academic, operational, and fiscal excellence. As a result of this success, we have been encouraged and implored to expand to better serve more of Red Bank’s children, and heed the Department of Education’s recommendation to expand for every child in Red Bank.

The money must follow the student to whichever public school they elect to attend. For students attending Red Bank Charter School, the monies paid by Red Bank Borough to the charter have decreased $128,959 over the past 6 years (source: Red Bank Charter School State Aid Summaries, 2007-2015) and the Charter School saves residents an additional $480,176 that would need to be recouped in the form of a tax levy if the Charter School did not exist (sources: Red Bank Borough Public Schools user-friendly budgets 2007-2015 and Red Bank Charter School State Aid Summaries, 2007-2016).

When facility, tax, and budget issues are stripped away, we must fight for the education of every child. The evidence is clear that Red Bank Charter School is prepared and eager to offer alternative public school opportunity to more children in Red Bank. The time for expansion is now. Our goal is to make that option available to more children in Red Bank. Our focus is on children and we believe every child can learn, every child must care about themselves and others, and every child must be engaged in their community.

Meredith Pennotti, Principal
Red Bank Charter School