Germantown community emphasizes local involvement in recommendation to Camelot Schools

 Representatives from 15 community groups with ties to Germantown High School gathered to discuss Camelot Schools' proposal to lease the building in late July. (Brian Hickey/WHYY, file)

Representatives from 15 community groups with ties to Germantown High School gathered to discuss Camelot Schools' proposal to lease the building in late July. (Brian Hickey/WHYY, file)

Camelot Schools has received “conditional support” from the Germantown community to move three of its alternative education programs to the neighborhood.

The for-profit company wants to bring Excel Academy North, Excel Academy South and Camelot Academy to Germantown High School’s now-shut building on East High Street.

Both Excel programs, previously located in Northeast Philadelphia, serve “near-dropouts” who need a substantial number of credits to complete high school.

Camelot Academy, housed in North Philadelphia, works with middle-school and high-school students who were removed from traditional schools for disciplinary infractions.

Camelot is interested in leasing the GHS building from the Philadelphia School District, a longtime partner.The idea has not garnered unanimous community support, but several key stakeholders have tentatively approved Camelot coming to the neighborhood.

In turn, Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and state Rep. Stephen Kinsey have sent a joint-letter that state’s their “conditional support” for Camelot leasing the GHS building for the next three years.

Camelot must agree to all tenants of a yet-to-be-finalized community benefits agreement to receive full support.

“…the School District is faced with a binary choice in the short-term: lease the Germantown High School building to Camelot for the 2013-14 academic year and beyond or allow it to stay vacant,” reads a section of the three-page letter.”

“The threat of a hulking, vacant Germantown High School building is sufficiently great to seriously consider the Camelot opportunity,” states another.

The Aug. 13 letter, obtained by NewsWorks, was sent to district Superintendent William Hite, School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos and others.

A copy was also sent to Camelot.

“We knew that the most difficult part of this process would be gaining the community support and, now that we have that, we anticipate that the school district and the SRC will follow the lead of the community and approve the lease,” said Kirk Dorn, Camelot’s spokesperson.

While the provisions of that agreement are still being finalized, the letter notes that the following elements must be included:

A mechanism for community oversight
A recruitment plan targeting local, eligible students
Allowance for use of the building by local community organizations, including the Germantown High School Alumni Association
Prioritizing local residents and businesses for employment, vending or concession opportunities

“We’re trying to make sure that our constituents get the best deal and that our commercial corridor is not left with a vacant building,” said Joseph Corrigan, Bass’ spokesperson.

Dorn said he doesn’t foresee Camelot having any issues agreeing to the final terms of the CBA.

“We had already agreed to the basics,” he said.

The SRC must approve a lease between the district and Camelot. The body’s next scheduled meeting before the start of the school year is Aug. 22.

Dorn said that the district and Camelot will hash out the “precise terms” of a lease between now and that meeting.

School is scheduled to start September 9.

After 99 years, GHS closed in June as part of the district’s facilities master plan, an effort aimed, in part, at addressing its ongoing budget crisis.

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