New charter schools hoping to take wing in city, county

Four in Pittsburgh, six others apply to open next fall

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As many as four new charter schools could open in Pittsburgh next fall, and others are in the works for elsewhere in Allegheny County.

By last week's deadline, Pittsburgh Public Schools had received applications for four new bricks-and-mortar charter schools.

At least six other proposed charter schools elsewhere in the county -- including Duquesne, Sto-Rox, North Hills and Wilkinsburg -- also are in various stages of planning for next fall.

Charter schools are operated by their own boards but must be chartered by the local school district or, in the case of a cyber charter school, by the state.

The state has 16 full-time cyber charter schools, and eight new ones have applied for fall. The state Department of Education has scheduled hearings on them in Harrisburg next week.

Home school districts pay a fee for each resident who attends a charter school.

The new applications come as some school districts struggle to make charter school payments.

Not counting cyber charter schools, Pittsburgh already has eight charter schools. That includes Propel Northside. Propel Schools operates eight other charter schools outside the city in the county.

The district expects to spend $52.4 million on charter schools, including cyber schools, inside and outside the city.

The number of city students in charter schools grew from 1,262 in fall 2004 to 3,414 in fall 2012.

One of the city applicants, Propel Hazelwood, which plans to offer a K-8 program in a closed Catholic school building, already has been the subject of a public hearing. It would start with 300 students in K-6 and grow to 420 in K-8.

The city school board has until its January meeting to decide whether to grant the charter.

The other three in the city are:

• Computing Workshop Charter School in the workshop's space on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill, aimed at special needs students in grades 5 through 12 and to age 21, beginning with 16 students and growing to 20 students.

• Hill House Passport Academy, in a Bedford Avenue building owned by the Hill House, aimed at dropouts in grades 9-12, beginning with 150 students and growing to 180. It would offer a blended program, with in-person classes half of the day and online instruction on laptops the rest of the day.

• Mount Washington Community Academy Charter School in the building that housed the former St. Mary of the Mount School, later known after a merger as Bishop Leonard St. Mary of the Mount Academy. The charter would be a K-8 school beginning with 256 students and growing to 400.

Other applications that came in were the Leadership Academy for Mathematics and Science Focus, a high school program in Wilkinsburg, and the Power to Learn Charter School of Duquesne, a K-8 school.

The application for the proposed Wilkinsburg charter high school was submitted by Wilkinsburg resident Andre Tucker, who has been trying for four years to charter a school there.

A proposal for a middle school called the Leadership Academy for Mathematics and Science was denied by the Wilkinsburg school board. Mr. Tucker said the school has gathered signatures for an appeal, but the signatures are being challenged in court.

The proposed middle school would offer single gender classes to up to 60 middle school boys and girls.

The high school, which would have up to 96 students, would be all male.

Mr. Tucker said the schools would be in the same building, either a former community agency building or a former church.

The Power to Learn Charter School of Duquesne was submitted by Carolyn Davis, a Penn Hills resident who is a consultant for Imagine charter schools, previously worked for Propel and is a former Pittsburgh Public Schools principal.

She said the proposed school is not affiliated with Imagine or Propel.

The school would start with 186 students in K-2 and grow to 474 in K-8.

While she said there are other options, one possible location would be the Duquesne Education Center, which now houses the district's K-6 students.

Duquesne's students in grades 7-12 already are sent to West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny, and some have predicted the others will be as well.

The Power school is the second charter school proposal in Duquesne. The other, the Duquesne Charter School, filed by Duquesne resident Connie Lucas in September, also lists the district's school building as a possibility. The school would serve K-6 students, beginning with 200 and growing to 400.

The board of control did not act on that proposal. Without an action, the case may proceed to the state Charter Appeal Board.

Some charter schools planned for next fall have been rejected by local boards, a decision that can be appealed to the state board.

In September, the Sto-Rox school board rejected a proposal from Propel to set up a K-12 charter school there. Propel is appealing that decision. It has collected signatures to be submitted to a judge before they can go to the state board.

Another rejected school is Provident Charter School, which was aimed at children in grades 2-8 who have dyslexia. Curtis Kossman, president of Provident's board of trustees, said the members are discussing whether to appeal.

In another charter action, the Pittsburgh school board voted against renewing the charter of the Career Connections Charter School in Lawrenceville, which opened in 1999, but the school remains open as it appeals.

State Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said counsel for Career Connections and the appeal board conducted a conference call last week.

He said the charter will file an amended appeal by Nov. 30, the district will answer by Dec. 20 and the Charter Appeal Board may hear the case on Feb. 19.

education - region

Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955.


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