Officials with Camelot Education will be in Germantown Wednesday night to discuss the company’s interest in bringing three alternative-education programs to the neighborhood.
The public meeting inside Janes Memorial United Methodist Church will not be the Texas-based outfit’s first community presentation in Philadelphia.
Camelot, a for-profit company, has partnered with the Philadelphia School District for nearly a decade and operates both stand-alone programs and smaller ones housed inside and affiliated with existing charter schools.
Excel Academy South in Northeast Philadelphia is the company’s newest stand-alone program in the city. If the district approves Camelot’s plan, the high school would be one of the three programs in Germantown.
Excel Academy North, also in Northeast Philadelphia, and Camelot Academy in North Philadelphia would also move to GHS’ four-story building, which closed for good following this summer as part of the its district’s facilities master plan.
“It’s large enough where we can really operate three programs and do it in a way where they can operate independently,” said Todd Bock, Camelot’s president and CEO.
Both Excel programs serve “near dropouts” who need a substantial number of credits to graduate.Camelot Academy works with middle-school and high-school students who were removed from traditional district school for disciplinary infractions.
Welcoming or unwelcoming committee?
It’s uncertain how Camelot’s proposal will fare with residents on Wednesday.
Some may still be more than sore about GHS’ closure after 99 years. Others may be pleased at the prospect of the building not sitting vacant come September.
For their part, company officials are confident the plan will be received much like their plan for Excel Academy South: Positively.
How it went in the Northeast
Community-based discussions about the school began in earnest in June 2009, a few months before the school eventually opened.
With a long waiting list at Excel Academy North, Camelot wanted to add another accelerated program. They’d first need zoning permits and a variance.
Enter Northwood Civic Association, whose territory includes Friends Hospital, where Camelot wanted to locate the new school.
The facility — the nation’s oldest, private psychiatric hospital — occupies a bucolic, 100-acre campus off of Roosevelt Boulevard in a quiet, low-crime area of Northeast Philadelphia.
“It’s really kind of like a college campus,” said Bock.
Community support-gathering process
Camelot met with Northwood Civic leadership and general membership to get community support for a permit that would allow them to place five, one-story classroom trailers on the site. The company, which also wanted to occupy an existing, vacant building, needed an educational use variance as well.
More generally, company officials were also seeking broader support from residents.
In the end, Camelot got what it wanted with essentially no pushback. Though there were some concerns about the potential of unruly students roaming the neighborhood, civic membership ultimately voted unanimously to support Camelot’s plans.
Zoning was approved in September 2009. After putting more than a $1 million into the site, Camelot opened the campus full-time in late October the same year.
“I’m an honest guy and I was a tough leader and I never ever had any doubts about Camelot,” said Barry Howell, president of Northwood Civic at the time. “If there was opposition, they wouldn’t be there.”
Joseph Krause served on the civic’s board at the time. He said the proposed site for Excel Academy South certainly made the school an easier sell to the community — Roosevelt Boulevard and a pair of cemeteries serve as unofficial buffers — but it wasn’t everything.
He and others got behind what Camelot wanted to do.
“They talk to kids like they’re important. The staff actually interacts with the students,” said Krause, who currently leads Northwood Civic.
None of the current and former nearby residents that NewsWorks interviewed spoke poorly of Camelot.
“If they were a problem, I’m sure I’d know much more about them,” said Kate Clarke, a member of the Juniata Park Civic Association, which serves a swath of neighborhood near Friends Hospital. “Any little item shows up as a problem at our meetings.”
Officials with the Scattergood Foundation, which has leased the space for Excel Academy South, were not immediately available.
By the numbers
Since opening, Excel Academy South has served nearly 1,000 students and claims graduation rates of 90 percent or higher. Excel Academy North, located on Bustleton Avenue, has recorded similar rates, according to statisics provided by Camelot.
Camelot Academy students are expected to return to regular schools, but many seniors opt to graduate from the school instead. Camelot claims the school’s lowest graduation rate since 2004, when it first opened, was 83 percent.
NewsWorks has inquired about district figures for each school.
Camelot needs to merge its city programs as a result of the district’s budget woes.
Students enrolled at Camelot programs no longer receive as much money from the district, said Bock, noting that the reduction directly translates to facility costs.
“Prior to this last round of school cuts, we really weren’t interested in moving,” said Bock.
A total of 24 city schools, including Germantown, closed at the end of this school year.
District officials have said that nothing concerning Camelot’s interest in the GHS building “has been put into stone.”
On the move
Camelot will need to find a new home no matter what.
The company’s leases for Excel Academy North and Excel Academy South have expired. Its agreement for Camelot Academy, located inside a district-owned building, is also up.
Bock said the Germantown site is ideal because it’s centrally located amid a number of neighborhoods the company currently serves.
There would also be no need for zoning variances or permits as — not surprisingly — Germantown’s building is already approved for an educational use.
District students return to class Sept. 9.