It all began 15 years ago with 72 children, about a dozen-and-half determined parents, and a meager one-and-one-half floors of space. Now the Princeton Charter School (PCS) is recognized as “one of the best schools in the state of New Jersey,” according to Assistant Commissioner of Education Evo Popoff, who spoke on Monday at a celebration of the school’s anniversary.
The parents who signed the original charter application and are referred to by PCS’ers as the “founders,” were cited for their vision and tenacity more than once during the program. “This is the most democratic form of education we have in this country,” noted Mr. Popoff. “It’s based on a parent’s decision.” He praised the over 5,000 current charter schools across the country for “creating opportunities for innovation,” and pointed to the fact that PCS was open on Monday, when other schools were closed for Columbus Day, as evidence of PCS’s rigorous philosophy of education.
“The founders said, ‘we are going to focus on students,” said Mr. Popoff. The result, he added, is that PCS isn’t “pulled back by the things that often pull back schools across the state.”
The original mission of Princeton Charter School was premised on the belief that a “thorough and efficient education is best accomplished through a rigorous curriculum that requires mastery of core knowledge and skills.”
Unlike non-charter public schools, PCS, which is now a kindergarten through eighth grade school with 350 students, must acquire and renovate its facilities within its operating budget. In 2010, the school, without using any taxpayer money, opened an environmentally-friendly, 17,000 square foot multi-use facility that houses a black-box theater, a gymnasium, and an art studio. Before the school received any public funding, the costs for student outreach and teacher recruitment were funded solely by an association of Friends of PCS. The first phase of the renovations of the facility at 575 Ewing Street (now 100 Bunn Drive) was donated to the school by Friends of PCS, and they have continued to provide major funding and support for both events and facilities.
In his comments on Monday, physical and health education teacher Mark Papp recounted the dramatic evolution of the school’s facilities. After his job interview with Head of School Charles Marsee and board member Herman Tull 12 years ago, Mr. Papp asked where the school’s gym was. “Herman Tull was laughing so hard he almost fell on the floor,” said Mr. Papp. Mr. Marsee informed him that there was no gym, but on a tour of the school’s modest facilities later that day, Mr. Papp noted that there already was a science lab. “‘These people care about education,’” he recalled thinking.
This ability to make do with a limited amount of resources has also characterized PCS faculty. Another speaker on Monday, science teacher Mark Schlawin, described teachers who taught four and five classes a term; proctored study halls; and substituted for one another when necessary. “The test scores began high and have been climbing ever since,” he said of the award-winning school.
A video, “Founding Principals, Founding Principles of the Princeton Charter School,” can be seen on YouTube.
For more information on the Princeton Charter School, visit http://pcs.k12.nj.us/.