August 9, 2017

PCS Head Hopes for Return to Normalcy, As Charter School Prepares for New Year

Princeton Charter School is preparing to expand, with an increase of 54 students this year. Trailers are on site to provide two new classrooms, six or seven new teachers will be coming on board, and plans are in the works with KSS Architects of Princeton to design permanent space for the future.

Controversy over the expansion continues, however, with Princeton Public Schools (PPS) claiming severe financial repercussions and awaiting a response from the Appellate Division of the Superior Court on their appeal of the acting state education commissioner’s decision to approve the PCS expansion. Also pending are law suits on both sides over alleged violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.

PCS Head Larry Patton, in the midst of preparing enrollment forms, writing his annual letters to parents and teachers for next month’s opening, and looking forward to welcoming about twice as many new students as usual, would like to get back to normalcy.

In discussing the expansion, which adds students in the kindergarten, first, and second grades, Mr. Patton noted, “Our school makes more sense with balanced classes from K to eight. My hope is that we’re going to revert to the normalcy of coexistence with the district schools as we have in the past. We’ve had a good relationship in the past. We coexisted beautifully for many years.”

Mr. Patton emphasized that after filling in two sections of their K-second grade classes, “we’re done. No further expansion,” and lamented that “the cost of the law suits detracts from our ability to reach our goals.”

He added that the PCS building plan is funded through the school’s operating budget, necessitating no additional tax burdens on the town.

PCS plans to finalize its building plans this fall, hoping to break ground by next spring. Both new spaces and upgrading of existing spaces will be on the agenda. In addition to the possibility of a new cafeteria and new classrooms, PCS is looking to create more versatile spaces for groups of different sizes, including smaller spaces to facilitate more opportunities for differentiation in teaching and learning and space for occupational therapy, special education, speech, and ESL classes.

Mr. Patton added that new staff members, another benefit of expansion, will allow PCS to offer Spanish in the lower grades and to add an ESL teacher, a half- to full-time special education teacher, a reading specialist, and a computer programming teacher for all seventh and eighth grade classes. “It will be a more robust program for all students,” Mr. Patton said.

Reflecting further on the anticipated new faces at PCS in September, Mr. Patton expressed delight with the results of last spring’s weighted admissions lottery. Giving preference for admissions to economically-disadvantaged students, the weighted lottery was part of the PCS proposal for expansion.

“We were thrilled with our weighted lottery,” Mr. Patton said. “I hope that pattern holds.”

Mr. Patton noted that 12 percent of this year’s admissions are in the economically-disadvantaged category, mostly in the early grades, and PCS looks forward to continuing to increase the diversity of its student population in reflecting the larger Princeton community.

Mr. Patton emphasized his hope that PCS and PPS could soon move beyond their conflicts and find ways to work together effectively. He noted in particular the possibility for sharing professional development opportunities and for students at PCS and PPS to collaborate on community service programs and environmental/sustainability initiatives.

“We can coordinate with the district,” he said, ”emphasize the importance of giving back and volunteering time. It would be a great way to put our kids together on a project, a good starting point.”

Looking forward to less contentious times for PCS-PPS relationships, Mr. Patton urged, “The Charter School should not dominate the conversation about education in this town. We’re a relatively small percent, only about 10 percent of the student body, 5.5 percent of the budget. We shouldn’t become 80 percent of the discussion.”