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Administration Cautiously OKs Two Charters, Passes on Two More

A pair of charter school networks get the nod to open in Camden and Newark, but DOE approach continues to be decidedly slower than in earlier years

Link Community Charter
The new Link Community Charter School, which originally opened its doors in 1969, would serve nearly 300 middle school students from Newark and nearby towns.

The Christie administration continues its recent, more deliberative approach to charter schools, approving two more for next fall in Camden and Newark but passing up two more controversial proposals.

The state Department of Education announced Friday that it had given preliminary approval to the Excellence Charter School in Camden, an extension of the Mastery charter network out of Philadelphia, and the Link Community Charter School in Newark, the state’s second private school conversion.

Both are well-established organizations and continue the administration’s focus on schools with long track records. The application process was only for existing networks ready to open within the year, and was thus separate from a broader process available to all parties. These schools still need final approval in the summer before they open in the fall of 2014.

Still, the administration turned down a national charter network founded in Las Vegas that faced questions about its operations elsewhere, and also rejected a proposal for what would have been the first conversion of an existing district school to a charter.

The proposal from BRICK Academy, working with two district schools in Newark, comes as state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson seeks a controversial reorganization of the district, including new partnerships with charters.

Yesterday, state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf dismissed any suggestion that the department was playing it safe with new approvals, but said it was a continuing trend of approving only those proposals with the best chance for success.

“This pool was very limited, and it was meant to be a much more limited round,” he said of the expedited process. “But nevertheless, we continue to focus on quality over quantity.”

Cerf is leaving office at the end of this month, and he said the rigor of the charter application process and the work of the charter office in general were among his most significant accomplishments.

Gov. Chris Christie’s administration in his first term approved 31 new charters, while pulled the charter from or failed to renew another 10. Nevertheless, the number of approvals has been far more modest in the past couple of years as communities have pushed back against new charters opening.

“The thoughtfulness of the application process, the structured interviews we do, every part of the process, these are among our proudest accomplishments,” Cerf said yesterday.

The new approvals could have significant impacts on their respective communities. The Excellence Charter School in Camden proposed three new schools serving kindergarten to 12th grade and nearly 2,000 students.

Part of the Mastery network, which operates more than a dozen schools in Philadelphia, the Camden charter is part of a two-pronged effort that has Mastery planning another three elementary schools serving 2,000 more students under the state’s Urban Hope Act.

The Link Community Charter School would be the second private independent school in Newark that has moved to become a public charter school and gain the benefits of more consistent public funding. The Philip’s Academy Charter School, opening this year, was the first

The new Link Community Charter School, which opened its doors in 1969, would be a middle school serving nearly 300 students from Newark, East Orange, Orange, and Irvington.

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