Decision on proposed charter school looms for Wilson school board
The fate of a proposed charter school in the Wilson Area School District will most likely be decided by the local school board within the next month.
The Wilson Area School Board is currently in the process of deciding whether to approve the application for the proposed Business and Entrepreneurship Academy Charter High School, which would be located next to the recently opened county-operated DUI treatment facility in a vacant building developer Abraham Atiyeh is looking to redevelop.
A public hearing on the proposed charter school was held back on Dec. 17. Under state law, the Wilson board must make a decision on the application between 45 and 75 days from the date of the public hearing. The West Easton Borough Council has already okayed an amendment that would permit a school in an area zoned for light industrial uses.
The board did not publicly discuss when it would make a decision during its most recent meeting held Monday night, Feb. 4.
The board's next regularly scheduled meeting is March 4.
While the board held no discussion on the matter during its Feb. 4 meeting, Superintendent Doug Wagner did reference some general charter school data in his regular report, which is given to the board each meeting.
Wagner briefly cited state-level information showing that 28% of charter schools are meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards as set forth by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. He said cumulative data shows that "making AYP has been a significant challenge for charters."
The proposed charter school drew a lengthy discussion among officials during the Dec. 17 public hearing.
During that hearing, representatives of the charter school were barraged by several pages of prepared questions from Wilson board members, including questions over whether the proposed charter was intended as an indictment on the Wilson school district.
Joseph Lewis, former Bethlehem Area schools superintendent who is serving as a consultant on the project, offered an emphatic “no.”
“This is no way an indictment on the Wilson school system. You have a great reputation and we don’t expect many of your students to come out. We just happened to have a great building in your district,” Lewis said during the Dec. 17 hearing, noting that the proposed charter would be open to all students throughout the Lehigh Valley.
Representatives of the charter school said during that hearing that the academy will strive to prepare students for “a 21st century global economy.” The grades 9-12 school would focus on personal finance and business courses, with internships and externships established with partnering businesses. Students would have the opportunity to develop their own business through what Lewis called an “incubator model.”
The school would open with about 150-170 students, with that number eventually growing to more than 400, said charter school representatives.
Wilson School Board Solicitor Donald Spry said during the Dec. 17 hearing that the board’s decision on the charter school application must be guided by specific criteria listed in state law. Among the criteria, he said, is whether the school in its application shows the ability to increase learning opportunities for all students through different and innovative teaching methods.
Charter school representatives said the academy has received letters of support from the likes of Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and Lehigh University.
During the Dec. 17 hearing, Wilson board member William Wallace questioned how effective the academy would be, citing studies showing that traditional public schools outperform charters.
Academy representatives said the proposed West Easton charter would be held accountable to the same state educational core requirements as Wilson and other school districts.
If the Wilson board votes to deny the application, the charter school can file an appeal with the state.
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