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Fine Print: KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy Application

John Mooney | January 7, 2013

Application under Urban Hope Act would bring first 'renaissance schools' to Camden.

What it is: The first formal application to the state under the new Urban Hope Act for the construction of a network of five new quasi-charter “renaissance schools” in Camden, operated by the KIPP charter school organization.

What it means: The application provides some additional details in the proposal for the new schools being spearheaded by South Jersey political leader George Norcross III, including the phase-in of the new schools to be built in two phases over the next seven years. It also proposes leasing some of its space to Camden public schools while its moves to full enrollment.

What’s next: The application was endorsed by the Camden Board of Education in November, and now goes to state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf for his expected final approval -- with some caveats.

Work in progress: The application has been slow in developing, first held up by the Camden school board and still needing final agreement on a couple of details. Even if/when Cerf signs off, the board will still need to give its final imprimatur. Because of the ongoing deliberations, the state Department of Education initially would not release the final application. The application was provided late Friday after NJ Spotlight filed a request under the Open Public Records Act.

Questions remain: The Education Law Center, the Newark-based advocacy group, maintained that the first application by the Camden school board failed to meet requirements of the law, including a proposal for two separate campuses. Its director, David Sciarra, said yesterday it was still reviewing the revisions for whether violations remain.

Phase I: The application calls for the first elementary school to built and open by September 2014. It would be built on the now vacant site in Lanning Square next to Cooper University Hospital, of which Norcross is board chairman. It would start with preschool and kindergarten students, and grow by one grade a year. A middle school would be added at the same site and be ready by 2017-2018. Combined, the two schools would serve up to 1,100 students through eighth grade.

Phase II: The second phase would be the construction of a second elementary school at a yet unspecified location by 2016-2017, with a middle school by 2018-2019 and a high school in 2021. The second phase would serve a total of 1,740 students when completed.

Lease to Camden schools: As the KIPP program phases in, the proposal says space in the new Lanning Square school would be made available to the district to serve its own students. This has been a key point, since the new school is expected to take the place of a planned district school in Lanning Square that has been long stalled under the state’s direction. The proposal said the new renaissance school “will eliminate the need” for a district school in Lanning Square.

The cost of renaissance: The total budget proposed for the first year is just over $2 million for the first 100 kindergarten students, or roughly $20,000 per student in local, state, and federal funds. Teachers will start with an estimated base salary of $63,500.

New entity and board: The KIPP schools would be operated under a new not-for-profit entity, Cooper Lanning Square Renaissance School Inc. Its board would made up of top officials of Cooper Health Systems and its foundation, as well as those of KIPP, including Cooper Foundation president Susan Bass Levin and KIPP-Newark chief executive Ryan Hill. Also on the board would be Alessandra Norcross, George Norcross’s daughter and now director of Interstate General Media LLC, the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com.

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