2012-01-25 / Front Page

Edison charter school plan denied yet again

State instead grants approval to schools proposed in Camden, Newark, Trenton
BY KATHY CHANG Staff Writer

The application for the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School, which would serve students in Edison and New Brunswick, has been denied for the fourth time.

The state Department of Education’s rejection of the application came as a relief to those residents, including some from Highland Park where the school was originally proposed, who rallied against the application in recent months. A group called Speak Up Highland Park, formed as a partnership of community leaders, business owners and concerned citizens, led the public outcry.

In November, the Speak Up group held a forum to express opposition to the proposed charter school, with dignitaries and Board of Education members from several Middlesex County towns in attendance. The group also sponsored a chartered bus trip to Trenton for the “Occupy the Department of Education” event in December. Darcie Cimarusti, a vocal parent in Highland Park, said that since the application has been denied, the group will now focus its attention on ensuring that the U.S. Department of Education rescinds the $600,000 federal grant it awarded to the proposed charter school. In its application, the charter school noted that the Friends of Tikun Olam, a nonprofit organization created in 2010 to support the school, had secured a three-year, $600,000 DOE grant to assist with extensive training and professional development opportunities for school staff.

On Jan. 20, the state DOE announced the approval of eight charter school applications, with most located in larger cities in New Jersey. Three were approved in Camden, two in Newark, and one each in Jersey City, Trenton and the Millville-Pittsgrove-Vineland area.

“Since Gov. [Chris] Christie took office, we have committed to being unapologetically impatient when students do not have access to the high-quality school options that they deserve,” acting Commissioner Chris Cerf said in the announcement. “In addition to working to improve all public schools by ensuring that every classroom has an outstanding educator, and implementing the new Common Core State Standards aligned with college and career readiness, we are also committed to expanding the number of highquality charter schools so that every student can choose the school option that is the best fit for them.”

The DOE has a three-stage charter review process. Using both internal DOE staff and qualified external reviewers, each application is reviewed against a defined set of benchmarks to determine which applications will move on to the second stage of the process. As one example, benchmarks include whether an application proposes an educational program that integrates the school’s mission and clearly indicates how it will educate all students, regardless of any theme or other specific focus.

Sharon Akman, a resident of Highland Park, revised and resubmitted the Tikun Olam application in October. Her proposal was one of 42 reviewed by the state in this latest round. It was unclear whether she would try again to seek approval.

In its previous submissions, the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School was proposed for students who reside in Edison, New Brunswick and Highland Park, but the most recent application used only Edison and New Brunswick as its school districts of residence.

The proposed high school, according to the application, would open with grades nine and 10, adding 11th grade for its second year and 12th grade for its third year. The school, which would be launched with 100 students and eventually expand to 200, would offer a partial-immersion Hebrew language program. It would be the first Hebrew language charter high school in New Jersey.

Akman has said she believes the school would fill a void since there were no high schools in the area that offer Hebrew language programs.

Edison Superintendent of Schools Richard O’Malley, in a letter to Cerf in May, said he believes the charter school application “lacks clarity, overestimates the enrollment figures and their ability to implement the academic and curricula offerings set forth in their application.”

Edison Board of Education President Gene Maeroff said the school district “simply can’t afford to pay tuitions to send more students to charter schools.”

In Edison, the average cost per student is about $9,900.

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