Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Paterson Collegiate Charter School Application: A New Direction For New Jersey Charter Schools, Part I

It's no secret that Commissioner Cerf has been making lots of changes at the New Jersey Department of Education.  The Charter School Office is no exception.  One of the changes implemented in 2012 was to the charter application process.  The October application cycle, which in 2011 was nothing more than an expedited round for all and any applicants, (42 to be exact...) is now reserved solely for "existing operators with demonstrable experience."  It's  become a two phase application process, with only a certain portion of the applicants submitting Phase One applications moving on to Phase Two. 

When Commissioner Cerf testified before the Senate Education Committee last week he reiterated what both he and Governor Christie have been saying for a while now - he is focusing charter growth in urban, not suburban areas.

Our old friends at the Star Ledger Editorial Board like to pretend Cerf is focusing on urban districts because he is being "smart and careful" about expansion. I'm more inclined to call it sly and cunning.
It’s good news for the charter school movement that acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf has taken a smart, careful approach to expansion.
Many of these alternative public schools are making huge strides. But others are still failing.
So the challenge is to make sure we get this right, to choose only the very best charter schools, to nurture them and make sure that they’re shielded from political brush fires. 
Cerf seems to understand that. His latest list of newly approved charters is, once again, a short one.
Of 32 applications, Cerf chose only nine. All but one will be in urban districts. Focusing on growing charter schools where they’re most desperately needed makes sense.
Ya know what is REALLY great about focusing charter schools in urban districts?  Far less backlash. 

The October round of applications in 2011 was unbelievably controversial.  It led to Teaneck residents staging protests both at their school and outside of the Governor's press conference. Both were widely covered by print and television media. In Highland Park we held a Town Hall meeting that was covered by NJTV and the Star Ledger, and our story ultimately ended up in the pages of the New York Times.  To top it off, folks from districts across the state, fed up with having no say in decisions effecting their districts, staged an Occupation of the DOE that was also covered by multiple outlets.

At the same time there were also lawsuits involving PIACS and the Regis Academy which were generating their own press.  It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time to work at the NJDOE, that's for sure.

So let's compare last year's turmoil to the current application cycle which is flying completely under the radar!  I can't find a single news story about this round of applications.

But I have been paying attention...

A field of only nine applicants has been narrowed down to three, and on February 15th we will find out how many of them will be approved by Commissioner Cerf.  There is one application I can almost assure you will be approved.  It is for the Paterson Collegiate Charter School, and as you can see if you click the link, they are so confident the pending application is already listed on the website of the proposed CMO, Ascend Learning.  

Oh, and BTW, the Lead Founder of the charter also happens to be the Founder and President of the CMO.  And yeah, he's from Boston and has a chain of "non-profit" charters in Brooklyn.  

He's got real Jersey roots.  

But more about all that later.  Over the next week I will take a look at this application, the man behind it and the education they propose to offer the children of Paterson.  

I hope you'll follow along.  I can assure you it's going to be a very illuminating tale about the kind of charter operator Commissioner Cerf is courting. 

I'll tell you this much, it ain't gonna be pretty.


  1. I'm glad you're lending your strong voice to the travesty of good citizenry and public education advocacy in NJ. It's appreciated and needed.

  2. We are Uniting. We will Stand. We will fight and not only Win the Battle, but the War!