Camden residents will have access to more programs, resources at Renaissance schools

 Drew Martin, executive director of KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, talks about community benefit agreements between Camden and its Renaissance charter schools. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Drew Martin, executive director of KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, talks about community benefit agreements between Camden and its Renaissance charter schools. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In an attempt to better utilize “neighborhood schools,” Camden’s three Renaissance school operators will provide more programs and resources to city residents and allow for a wider use of school facilities.

“This is something that residents in Camden have asked for for a long time,” said Mayor Dana Redd at the announcement on Monday.

The wider access is the result of recently negotiated “community benefit agreements” between the three operators — KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon Schools — and community groups trying to better serve students, parents, and residents in neighborhoods where the eight Renaissance schools are located.

“We’ve actually learned that, for our kids to achieve, they need a whole lot more than a great lesson plan. They need the support of the community,” said Drew Martin, executive director of the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy in Camden’s Lanning Square neighborhood. “They need to know that their teachers are there with them, but they need to know that everybody in the community stands with them as well.”

Offerings through the agreements will take a variety of forms. KIPP will coordinate volunteer workshops for women and open computer labs to the public, for example. Mastery will offer cancer screenings. Uncommon Schools will partner with the Whitman Park Little League. Mastery and Uncommon School will also open their gymnasiums to community events.

The importance of schools that truly serve their neighborhoods is especially important in Camden, said Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.

“Most of our families don’t have a working car. They want to be able to walk their kids to school. Public safety is a concern. Public transportation infrastructure here has some challenges,” he said. “So the neighborhood school is really, really important.”

The Renaissance schools will also try to hire more city residents by offering an interview to any city applicant who meets the minimum qualifications of an available job.

Private companies run Renaissance schools in Camden, but the Camden School District oversees their operation. Unlike in charter schools, students living in a Renaissance school’s catchment area are guaranteed admission.

About 2,000 students in the Camden public school system attend Renaissance schools, while another 13,000 attend district or charter schools.

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