Parents, teachers, students, faculty and board members packed a conference room at Delaware Technical Community College’s Stanton campus for the final public hearing on the fate of Pencader Charter School.
Decked out in red Titians gear, dozens of supports spoke before John Carwell, director of the Charter School Office at the Department of Education.
Many speakers blamed the former board of directors and negative media reports for the schools bad reputation.
During the hearing parents and students shared testimony that showed the positive effect that the school has had on many students who we’re previously low performing or bullied at their public schools.
“The teachers are outstanding and go above and beyond to make sure their students understand what they are learning,” said senior Savannah Weldon. “Every teacher that I have had over my four years here at Pencader has by-far exceeded any expectation I had for a teacher in high school. No matter what class I was in they would stay after a go over everything we learned in class to make sure that I understood.”
Weldon added that during her freshman year she was unenthusiastic about school, but the engaging classes and teachers helped her become a 4.0 student with a college scholarship waiting for her when she graduates this spring.
Many students shared similar success stories about improving their academic achievements. Other students said they felt safe at the school because they finally felt accepted.
Pencader junior Stacey Rahaka said she suffered bullying at her public middle school and described it as “the worst experience of my life.” However Rahaka said she got a fresh start at Pencader her freshman year.
“I met people who honestly changed who I was and made me feel comfortable enough to open up and feel as if I was home,” she said. “I can honestly say that, every time I go to school, I might have bad days, and I might feel as if I don’t want to be here but I honestly love Pencader and I know a lot of students do as well.”
Kevin Price, a father of one of the students, noted that according to 2011-2012 bullying report of the Delaware public schools districts and charters, Pencader had zero substantiated cases of bullying.
“Schools that will be in the feeder districts, should you close our school, they posted numbers like this – 62, 75 and the highest in the state 123 with a 163 individual incidents of bullying. My daughter was a victim of some of them. Pencader had zero. Safety has value.”
While the enthusiasm and support is clear from teachers, parents and students, does the school have the leadership it needs to stay in business?
According to new board president Frank McIntosh, the new leadership is bigger and better than ever.
The school welcomed McIntosh in November 2012 along with five other new members and three holdovers.
“We’ve got an incredibly, dedicated, intelligent, successful, board of directors that we’ve recruited in the last month and a half, they come from different walks of life, they have different backgrounds, different experiences, different contacts but they have one common thread, that they’re all successful and that their all committed to seeing Pencader become a great school,” said McIntosh.
They also recently added Frank Hagan as assistant school leader.
“We’re about as fortunate as anyone could be in getting Frank on staff because he has an extraordinary career, one of the best high school principals our state has produced in the last three decades,” said McIntosh.
McIntosh said that they’ve been so busy putting together components to be creditable that they have not started recruiting for next year just yet. However, they are diligently working with education heavy weights to develop marketing and recruiting plans.
“Bob Andrzejewski who used to be the Red Clay superintendent and currently runs the Mentoring Council, he said ‘I’m going to be there with you,’” said McIntosh. “Chuck Baldwin, (president of Charter School of Wilmington) all these folks, they’re willing to help us put this together.”
Carwell is taking the hearing testimonies to Education Secretary Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education to review.
If they decided to close Pencader, Carwell said the students would go back to their feeder school districts which are based on where students reside.
He said they have not discussed the possibility of returning those students with the districts.
“Any discussions like that would be premature because there has not been a decision as of yet,” said Carwell.
Should Pencader close, Carwell said there might be an opportunity for students to choose their school for next year.
“There is a possibility for an exception and those details are yet to be determined,” said Carwell.
A final decision is scheduled for February 21st.