Sto-Rox, Propel to discuss options
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Representatives from the Sto-Rox School District and Propel Schools will get together to discuss differences and common ground in Propel's application to open a K-12 charter school within the district.
This kind of cooperation is believed to be the first of its kind between a Propel charter and a public school district.
Instead of voting on a revised charter application for a Propel-West location last Thursday, Sto-Rox directors agreed to establish a committee allowing both side to discuss options. The vote was 6-1 with Joseph Vojtecky opposed. Jeanne Hughes and Brian Taylor were absent.
After the meeting, a group of Sto-Rox teachers were discussing the possibility of Propel operating its charter school on the third floor of the high school in Stowe. The company has shown interest in placing its charter school in a district building.
The teachers, who asked not to be identified, said they fear the placement could mean the end of the district.
After Propel submitted the revised plan in June, Derric Heck, director of strategic initiatives for Propel, had said the charter company is still interested in forming a partnership with the district on housing the school, but also has a site suitable for development at the former Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad industrial site in McKees Rocks.
When asked if sharing the high school was a possibility, superintendent Michael Panza, said "Every option is going to be discussed and there has been no decision at this time."
Elizabeth Smith, president, and Mr. Panza are unsure there are enough classrooms available to support such a venture.
"Those are the types of discussions we would have," said Miss Smith.
According to the nonprofit charter's initial application, Propel West would open with 400 students in grades K-4 and 9-10 in the first year. A grade would be added each year at each level until enrollment reached 800 students -- 600 at the K-8 level and 200 in grades 9-12.
Propel operates a K-8 school known as Propel Montour in neighboring Kennedy. "I need to hear more, myself personally," said Miss Smith. "Why parents are going there? [I need] a more thorough idea why parents are leaving and taking their children elsewhere."
A schedule for the meetings hasn't been set, but Mr. Heck said he expects them to begin in the next two weeks. Sto-Rox is would like to schedule the first closed meetings for Aug. 6.
"This may be one of the first times a traditional public school and a traditional charter school sit down together to discuss a partnership," said Mr. Heck. "[It's] an opportunity to present how a partnership can make sense."
The move by Sto-Rox came one day before a July 20 deadline requiring the district to respond to Propel's resubmitted application for the proposed location.
In November, the district voted to deny Propel's original charter application, with officials then stating the creation of the charter school would bankrupt the struggling school district serving students from Stowe and McKees Rocks.
"I'm concerned with working with them, I'm concerned we're not going to have a district," said Heather Johnston, teacher's union president and second grade teacher at Sto-Rox. She said she "sort of expected" the move to happen but had been hopeful for a different outcome.
Approximately 200 parents and students turned out for a public hearing last fall about the charter application. Last week's meeting was attended by about 75 people -- mainly Sto-Rox teachers and staff and parents in support of Propel.
"A lot of charters get turned down, not many sit down and talk." said Jeremy Resnick, executive director of Propel Schools. "We're looking forward to the conversation."
The decision to meet over the next two months was found to be both positive and constructive by Mr. Resnick. This action pushes the response deadline from Sto-Rox to Sept. 20. If Sto-Rox denies the re-application, Propel would be able to appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board.
"What is the worst that could happen?" asked Mr. Panza. "Two [groups] sit down and talk."
First Published July 26, 2012 4:52 am