Planet Princeton

Trustees Vote to Expand Princeton Charter School

Princeton Charter School

The  board of trustees for Princeton’s only charter school voted Monday night to expand the school on Bunn Drive.

Expansion plans for the Princeton Charter School include adding three classrooms, a larger cafeteria, additional spaces for special education, and possibly two “flex” classrooms to the school.  The added classroom space would allow the school to accept more students at the kindergarten or first-grade level instead of waiting until the third grade.

Head of School Larry Patton and Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Josephson informed parents of the decision in a letter Tuesday.

“The Board of Trustees and the Administration have been hard at work on this plan and are very excited about what it will mean for the future of Princeton Charter School,” reads the letter.

The school will apply to the New Jersey Department of Education for two changes to its charter.

The school will ask that kindergarten be the main point of entrance at the school. Officials said that currently, the school has a staggered admission structure. About half of the students enter in kindergarten, the second half enters in third grade, and the school adds another two students in fourth grade.

The school is asking the New Jersey Department of Education for permission to have two homeroom classes in every grade, including kindergarten, first, and second grade.  Currently the school has only one class for these grades. The school also wants to enroll two additional students in the third grade, bringing the total to 48 third-graders, rather than adding the two in fourth grade.

“We want to bring everyone on board as soon as possible to benefit from our curriculum.  We believe that these structural enrollment changes will serve the academic and social and emotional needs of our students better than our existing admissions structure,” reads the letter. “Finally, although we will be adding students to our school, we will remain a small school and are confident that adding students in kindergarten rather than third grade will strengthen the bonds that make small schools excel — the bonds between teachers, students, and family.”

School officials are also seeking permission to use a weighted lottery that would allow officials to give an extra chance for admission to students who qualify as economically disadvantaged. The New Jersey Department of Education approved charter school weighted lotteries in December of 2015.

“By fourth grade wide gaps in achievement emerge that cannot be explained by variations in ability alone. Disturbingly but not surprisingly, these gaps often correspond to children’s socioeconomic differences and varying levels of parental support. Some are created by inconsistent or even ineffective treatment of core areas such as language arts and mathematics. Princeton Charter School cannot hope to close these gaps entirely, but it believes that a stronger education program will help to bridge them,” reads the letter, citing the school’s charter.

“From our founding, Princeton Charter School has been marked by a commitment to challenge and support children from diverse backgrounds,” reads the letter. “We know that the socioeconomic achievement gap continues to be a concern in Princeton.  We see the use of the newly approved weighted lottery as absolutely in keeping with our founding mission.”

The school’s current practice of giving siblings an admissions preference in the lottery will continue, school officials said.

“We are convinced that the changes will make Princeton Charter School an even stronger school and will serve both our existing students and our future students well,” reads the letter.

Construction would begin this summer, and additional students would be added to the kindergarten and first-grade student body for the 2017-18 academic year if the state approves the school’s charter changes.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • CharterMom

    Right on!

  • Liz Winslow

    I’d be a lot more on board with that idea if I didn’t look daily at the decisions made on resource deployment and think they’re crummy.
    Let’s play a fun game – what are people paid at Charter vs. what are they paid at Littlebrook Elementary?

    K
    Stephanie Lamont, PCS: 59,100
    Leigh Salle, LB: 68,734

    1st
    Amy Vallone, PCS: 58,326
    Christine Trautman, LB: 95,502

    2nd
    Lacey Plichta, PCS: 56,840
    Katherine Federico, LB: 79,287

    3rd
    Aaron Burt, PCS: 62,252 (IMO, this man is a miracle worker)
    Jessica Saide, LB: 73,124

    Principal/Head
    Gail Wilbur, PCS: 119,476
    Annie Kosek, LB: 172,092

    Have we established a pattern yet?
    And of course don’t forget the very, very sweet benefits that PPS
    teachers have, and PCS teachers do without. Check for yourself. It’s a
    matter of public record. In fact, I encourage you to comparison shop,
    if the concern is about dollars. And if the argument is that almost all PPS teachers have masters’, it clearly isn’t making a positive difference if PCS outperforms them every time on NJASK, PARCC, etc.

  • Anne

    Actually, the law regarding a Charter board’s grant of authority is pretty vague: “14. a. The board of trustees of a charter school shall have the authority to decide matters related to the operations of the school including budgeting, curriculum, and operating procedures, subject to the school’s charter.”

    IMHO PCS interpreted it broadly and without good will, particularly by just submitting the amendment application without any collaboration or joint planning with PPS. If PCS is going to use the “we’re helping PPS with space challenges” talking point, and use Cochrane’s quotes as evidence of how beneficial their decision will be for PPS (which is really ballsy) then they should have worked together to spend all of our money on that goal. PPS has proposed a merger to address those challenges together.

    I am sorry your son had a miserable three years in school. My kids have had a mixed bag. But this is ultimately a macro and a public good issue. We are not a struggling school system. PCS is outperforming one of the highest performing school systems in the country, it’s a small size, autonomous, and free. Of course there’s demand for it. That’s incredibly rarefied and I don’t think it’s right to continue to take $5-6.5 million of public money that could be scaled up to benefit 3600+ kids and direct it to 400 kids who are not without access to a high-performing school system.

  • Liz Winslow

    This. Personally, I think the appropriate response by Steve Cochrane would have been to thank PCS for saving his bacon after failing to plan. All this new housing didn’t just appear one day.

  • CharterMom

    Steve Cochran is talking out of both sides of his mouth in asserting that the expansion of PCS will take away from the Princeton school district. First, he tries to assert an economy of scale approach by stating that the 13 Kindergarten classes will only decrease per class by 1-2 kids across the Princeton District, if 30 new Kindergartners move over to PCS with the expansion. He is ignoring the fact that if he decreases the available Kindergartens in the the Princeton district to 11 (still allowing for 14-15 kids per class after 30 kids move), he can use those other classrooms and teachers to serve kids that are not moving over to PCS (thus substantially resolving any immediate overcrowding in K-8). The same goes for grades 1 & 2. Moreover, he makes a lot of noise about the fact that the real issue is overcrowding at the High School and states the PCS will somehow provide more classroom space and resources for the High School if merged with the district, but forgets that PCS does not serve High School students, it is a K-8 school, and the major immediate issue facing the district from the recent building in Princeton, is not the overcrowding at the High School level (which still needs to be addressed) but rather, we are facing a crisis because of the majority of new residents enrolling in Princeton schools are kids in K-8 (145 of the 163 new students; 103 of those children in grades K-5) — so overflow can and should go to PCS, enabling Princeton to avoid overcrowded in their lower school classrooms (and focus on the High School overcrowding issue, which existed long before this expansion was even proposed.

  • Anne

    My point was, people love to toss out the 15K vs 24K (and somewhere up thread is a 98k per special ed student thrown in, not accurate) direct costs per student as a comparison of efficiency or productivity in the “it costs so much less for PCS to provide a same or better education.” But it’s a fallacy a) because PCS is not educating K-12 and b) the 15K is being calculated for PCS based on a formula, it’s not something the school achieves by being given the same resources and then managing them to a lower number. Which is what “we educate kids for 15K vs 24K” implies, erroneously.

  • Liz Winslow

    Everyone who applies has an equal chance of admission. Except now, the economically disadvantaged will have a better than equal chance. So by your logic, there should be not only no charter schools, but no magnet schools, no schools for performing arts, and no AP classes? I mean, being born with talent is just luck, right?

  • Liz Winslow

    By this logic, should I stamp my feet and yell because a member of the Board of Ed I didn’t vote for got on it by following the clear rules of the election? PCS is following the clear rules of the Charter law. If you don’t like it, go to Trenton.

    As for luck? To some extent, sure. To another – my, did I feel unlucky during the three years my son spent miserable in PPS. Again, the lottery wouldn’t remain massively oversubscribed if I were a lone voice in the dark.

  • Anne

    I’m very aware of that, Liz. Again, PCS’ Board, that I don’t elect, spends my tax money and wants to direct more of it away from the six other schools in Princeton. You’re just “lucky” that your children are included in the 350 kids that money is allocated toward.

  • Liz Winslow

    Anne, I’m a taxpayer, too. As are all the families at PCS. That’s something people reflexively anti-Charter always seem to forget when calling for accountability to the taxpayers.

  • Liz Winslow

    You know what PCS has that PPS doesn’t? Blackboards. The good old-fashioned kind that require chalk and erasers.

    You know what it doesn’t have? Obscenely expensive and useless feel-good measures – one that springs to mind was retrofitting LB with heavy-duty security doors after Sandy Hook, all while leaving the body-sized plate glass windows untouched and unreinforced. PCS students use Chromebooks, while PPS students use iPads. PCS hasn’t had a school library to date, because there is no need with classrooms full of books, competent teachers, and a fine public library. PCS also is not complaining about lack of funding and space, and putting a new performance space at the top of its budget list; it is budgeting for classroom space.

    I, for one, certainly don’t think my children *need* any of the items that their counterparts in PPS have and PCS kids lack. It might be nice to have them, but PCS lives within its budget – indeed, funding has been flat since 2009. And not spending money on frivolity and fads is a big reason why the PCS cost per student is so low, and community support remains high as evidenced by the 4x oversubscribed admissions library. PPS needs to take a good, hard look at its spending. It’s simply untrue student mix alone accounts even mostly for the dramatically lower cost of education at PCS.

  • Anne

    (which is a public school, and will accept anyone who walks in the door if they’ve been lucky enough to get a seat in the always-massively-oversubscribed lottery)

    How is this not an oxymoron? Substituting luck for being accepted by an admissions committee does not = public.

  • Liz Winslow

    The immediate counterargument to your point is that PCS does not receive funding for students in grades 9-12, whereas the sending district does – and it remains at the $24k level vs. the $15k level at PCS. I also am not following the alternate method to determining a per student cost other than dividing budget by headcount – what other method would there be?

  • Liz Winslow

    Quoting from the application from PCS to the state to amend its charter: “As the Department is well aware, PCS has been a remarkable success academically, achieving outstanding results by any measure, whether judged by NJASK, PARCC, or ERB scores, by the high level of parent demand for seats at PCS, significant levels of voluntary parent financial support, or by extraordinary levels of parent and teacher satisfaction.” Further, in order to have its charter renewed every five years, it *has* to show that it is outperforming the sending district. It was renewed last year.

  • Liz Winslow

    The district is required to supply bussing to ALL students in PPS and PCS (which is a public school, and will accept anyone who walks in the door if they’ve been lucky enough to get a seat in the always-massively-oversubscribed lottery) – and is compensated by the state for doing so. PPS also holds back 10% of each PCS student’s funding, so that specifically does not “follow the child” to account for fixed expenses.

  • Liz Winslow

    @Joe and @Princeton Parent:
    1) It is a public school, not a private school.
    2) Parents elect the trustees, same as town residents elect members of the Board of Ed. They are “appointed” by no one.
    3) No, they do not receive any administrative services from the sending district, so why wouldn’t they need their own?
    4) There is no “mini-superintendent.” There is a head of school. He has no say over what the District Superintendent does, either. But they both certainly are in touch.
    @Anne:
    1) Some district schools such as JW are bursting at the seams – if PCS closed tomorrow, there would be no place to put those 6-8th graders at JW. Furthermore, hasn’t Princeton been grappling with how it’s going to accommodate in the three figures of new students because of new construction? Charter’s expansion ought to be seen as benefitting PPS, as it will have to do less construction now.
    2) PCS wouldn’t be around if demand weren’t high. If they believe that they would remain oversubscribed even after expanding capacity, perhaps PPS should take heart and figure out why so many parents are pulling their kids if they win the PCS lottery.
    3) I have a special education student at PCS. Were you aware that PPS won’t contract special ed services with PCS (which would be convenient for everyone and a revenue source for PPS), so that instead, PCS special ed is administered out of Rider University? PPS is willing to cut off its nose to spite its face. It is hard to take “it’s all for the kids” seriously when the sending district pulls stunts like this.

  • Anne

    Why doesn’t the PCS Board then restrict its purview to the school’s curriculum and how to invest and allocate the funds it raises. They should have to work with and be accountable to the people that the town voted for in order to make decisions about allocating our tax dollars (eg increasing enrollment).

  • A Princeton Parent

    Joe, the town pays a lot more money to the schools for each special education child. Charter School is happy to take them too, but most these families choose to go to schools such as Riverside or Little Brook because they have strong reputations on special education. Charter School has different curriculum hence a different board, which is elected by parents.

  • Dan D’Menny

    Charter schools’ success are inherently tied to the satisfaction of the families they serve. Otherwise, they fail and go out of business. PCS generally has very satisfied families, hence their popularity.

    Alternatively, if one doesn’t have the opportunity to get into a Charter school, or pay $20k+ for a private school, one is stuck with whatever the public school system wants to deliver (for example, a cluster-frock of a Spanish-immersion program).

    It always seems to be the rich elitists who want to deny lower-middle income families the opportunity for school choice.

  • Joe

    Cynthia said: “However, due to limited resources, PCS is not the first choice for special students.”
    Bingo, that was one of my points, the district schools take the most expensive students to educate, such as special needs students and other pupils with challenging issues. Why does a charter school need to be a separate school district unto itself? Why can’t it be under the auspices of the district superintendent and the duly elected school board?

  • A Princeton Parent

    Hi Joe, I am a taxpayer of Princton township. My child was lucky to get in Charter School through the lottery in 3rd grade. I can tell you that as a parent, I would like the choice of a much more rigorous curriculum than what the Princeton District offers for elementary and middle schools. Are you also aware that the Princeton District Schools are getting way too crowded with the Avalon, Copperwood, and Merwick Stanworth developments? Charter School will help alleviate the overcrowded situation District Schools will face in the upcoming years.

  • Princeton resident

    by what measure?

  • Anne

    Again, what PCS receives per student from PPS is based on a formula that by definition should take into account the make up of the PCS student body (e.g., no high school grade students), the services it needs or wants to provide to serve its students, etc. Is that formula fixed or is it open to revision based on changes in the current or projected make up in PCS’ student population?

  • Anne

    PCS also does not have students in grades 9-12. The PCS annual per student cost is a direct derivation of the PPS per student cost, it’s not arrived at by dividing the budget of the Charter School by the number of students. So it can’t be used as a comparative measure of efficiency or quality because it’s arrived at and given to PCS by PPS.

  • Anne

    I agree it’s not accurate to write that PCS has a mini-superintendent or that the Trustees are appointed (not sure how PCS board members are designated or elected, but the information must be available in its annual report). It is accurate to state that PCS its own governance structure that includes a Board of Trustees that we as residents of Princeton did not elect. And yet they can decide and declare that they will expand enrollment by 60 students, which we will pay for. My understanding is that this was not decided in collaboration with PPS’ administration or BOE. Perhaps with Mr. Hare on the BOE starting in January, communication and joint strategic planning between the two administrations and Boards will increase.

  • Cynthia

    PCS only gets about $15,000 per student. The district has budget of $98,000 per student on special education. PCS is open to take all student body. However, due to limited resources, PCS is not the first choice for special students.

  • Cynthia

    I meant to say “PCS outperforms the district schools academically”

  • Princeton Parent

    Cost comparisons are not meaningful when the student body composition is not remotely similar. Also, I believe that high school students are more costly to educate on average because of athletics and other costly activities.

  • Princeton Parent

    I’d love to understand better from you what is “incorrect in literally every assertion in this paragraph.” I think it’s terrific that PCS is implementing affirmative action – I hope that it successfully diversifies the student body. Only when the student body’s of PCS and PPS are more closely aligned (economically, % second language learners, % special education) will any performance or cost comparisons be useful in any meaningful way.

  • Princeton resident

    Confusing that you assert “Princeton Charter School is a public school” and then you go on to say this: “PCS outperforms the public schools academically”.

  • Liz Winslow

    You are incorrect in literally every assertion in this paragraph. You also might want to look at the article about where PCS is implementing affirmative action in its lottery. If you’d like to have a calm discussion about PCS, I’m more than happy to do that. If you’d rather rant, well, let me know that too.

  • Joe

    The district is forced to supply bussing for the charter school. The charter school does not have the same percentages of poor, special education and special needs students, the more expensive students. The district schools accept all students who walk through the door for the whole year unlike charter schools. Princeton Charter school is privately run but takes public tax money. Princeton district schools are highly successful and are amongst the best in the state if not the nation. Charter schools drain funds and resources from the district schools; the district schools have fixed costs that do not go down when a child goes to the charter school.

  • Cynthia

    Princeton Charter School is a public school, not a private school. It is open to all residents in Princeton. Students get into the school by lottery. Please note that Princeton Charter School educates 10% of the students in Princeton with only 6% of the budget. Obviously this is money saving for the town. Furthermore, although running with only 2/3 of the budget the district schools use, PCS outperforms the public schools academically. Students who go to the PCS seek better education than the district schools could offer. PCS’s expansion will take additional 70+/- students. With 300+/- increase of student enrollment expected in the district, the school’s expansion will in no doubt help rather than hurt the district.

  • Joe

    The charter school is a privately run school that takes public money. Who elects the Board of Trustees of the charter school? No one, they are self-appointed or appointed by whomever. The district school has an elected school board but not the charter school. Charter schools duplicate administrative positions, seems wasteful to me. The district already has a superintendent and a financial office but the charter school duplicates all those positions. The district superintendent has no say over the charter school which has its own mini-superintendent. Does any of this make sense in a highly successful school district like Princeton?

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