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N.J. Charter Schools Denied Approval

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Founders of the new Compass Academy Charter School in Vineland hope a clerical error won’t prevent them from opening in September.

The state Department of Education announced Monday that nine new charter schools had final approval to open in September. Thirteen schools were granted a one-year extension for planning and 10 were denied final approval for failure to demonstrate sufficient progress.

Both the Vineland school and the Atlantic City Community Charter School in Atlantic City were given one-year extensions. The Atlantic City School has been largely dormant, but the Vineland school began actively recruiting students as soon as founders received the preliminary approval in January.

Sanford Tweedie, chairman of the Compass Academy Charter School board of trustees, said it is ready to open in September. He sent a letter to acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf on Tuesday, saying the denial of its final approval to open was the result of a clerical misunderstanding about its enrollment, which has been corrected.

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“We are definitely above the 90 percent enrollment requirement, and we submitted the names to them,” Tweedie said by phone Tuesday. “We are very concerned about this. We have already hired 15 teachers, we have our certificate of occupancy arranged, and we even secured a loan to provide cash flow to help us get opened. If we don’t get this resolved soon families may begin backing out.”

Compass Academy will be located in a former preschool building behind the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer on East Landis Avenue and will be using the Let Me Learn process developed by retired Rowan University professor Christine Johnston, whose son is a founding member of the school.

The school set up a website and held numerous open houses to recruit students. The goal was to open with 114 students in kindergarten, first and second grades this year, then expand one grade each year until it reached 228 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

In the letter, Tweedie said the school had 93 students enrolled at the time of the June 15 visit by the state Office of Charter Schools, and they were told they could send the remaining registrations by the June 29 deadline. The school submitted the information for 104 students with its fiscal preparedness worksheet by that date, but due to a clerical misunderstanding did not send the complete registration records for the additional students.

The letter said they were told they could still submit those records, which they did in early July.

But on July 16, school officials were notified that they had failed to meet the provision that requires evidence of enrollment of at least 90 percent of approved maximum. By law, the school can appeal that decision to the state Superior Court Appellate Division.

Tweedie said they have discussed the situation with their attorney but are hoping the letter to Cerf could resolve the issue more quickly.

“We were surprised and frustrated to get that letter,” Tweedie said. “We need to get this resolved quickly.”

In the letter, Tweedie almost pleads with Cerf to not let their months of work be in vain.

He writes: “There is nothing we can gain by waiting a year and we will lose everything, including the trust of the parents, the enrollment of the children and the recruitment of an outstanding staff—meaning 15 full-time well-paying jobs in a county with 13 percent unemployment.”

The extension for the Atlantic City Community Charter School is the second planning year approved by the state since the school got its preliminary approval in January 2011.

According to its application, the school would be located at 807 Baltic Ave. A property at that address is currently listed for sale on several real estate websites for almost $1.5 million.

The Press was unable to reach the representative for the school, Jacob Der Hagopian, of Moorestown, Burlington County, on Tuesday.

The letter sent by the state said the school can enroll 150 students in grades kindergarten through five in September 2013. The school’s application called for it to expand to 950 students in grades kindergarten through eight. Original plans called for the school to be modeled after the Chester Community Charter School in Chester, Pa.

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