Camden school officials have launched an outreach campaign for their new Renaissance charter schools, promising that the privately run charters will set a new standard in a district infamous for leaky roofs, broken pipes, and subpar academics.
Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard began the effort in front of the new KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, now under construction in the Lanning Square neighborhood.
“This building is being financed by the KIPP school itself,” Rouhanifard said. “It’s not coming out of district funds. And the way they’re able to do it is, a Rennaisance school gets a little bit more funding than a charter school does, and they’re able to use that additional funding to finance and do this type of construction.”
As Renaissance schools, the new charters run by a Philadelphia based operator will be required to accept all students in their catchments, and they’ll have room for some extras. But Camden’s traditional schools will still serve most of the city’s students, and critics of the charter initiative say those schools are being left behind.
“You just had some of the classrooms in the last few years receiving smartboards,” said Namibia Burke, a parent and former teacher in the Camden district. “You have a lot of structural problems. You have a school in my neighborhood that’s closed down [because of] a heating issue — pipes busted. So now those students are displaced and going to two different schools.”
Rouhanifard, who was appointed to his position by Gov. Chris Christie, said Camden’s charter experiment should free up some money to invest in traditional schools.
But he’s not expecting any additional funding from the Statehouse in Trenton.
“We’re seeing some real signs of progress in our traditional district schools. Our graduation rate is up,” Rouhanifard said. “But it’s hard to see that transformational change. That’s why we believe in making these partnerships, while at the same time we’re working like crazy to improve our traditional public schools.”