The fate of a proposed charter school within the Wilson Area School District in West Easton could be decided within the next few months.
As required by state law, the Wilson Area School Board on Monday night held a public hearing 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.
State law requires the board of education of the district in which a new charter school is being proposed to hold a public hearing and subsequently decide whether to approve the facility, within 45-75 days of the hearing. The West Easton Borough Council has already okayed an amendment that would permit a school in an area zoned for light industrial uses.
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, noting that the proposed charter would be open to all students throughout the Lehigh Valley.
Representatives of the charter school said 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 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.
Lewis said the school is thus far attracting mostly students who have pre-enrolled from urban centers. One of the school’s goals, representatives said, is to attract students in more urban high schools who may be struggling with traditional educational designs and would otherwise drop out.
Charter school representatives said the academy has received letters of support from the likes of Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and Lehigh University.
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.
Board member Janis Krieger pointed out what she said were numerous factual and grammatical errors in the charter school application, including wrongly listing the site as being in Salisbury Township and having the teacher to student ratio listed as 25:1 on one page and 22:1 on another page.
“With the multitude of mistakes in the application, why should we have confidence the charter school will operate effectively?” she questioned.
If the Wilson board votes to deny the application, the charter school can file an appeal with the state.