Vera Primus breathed a sigh of relief late Wednesday morning before leaving a first-floor meeting room inside Philadelphia School District headquarters.
For nearly two hours, she and other members of a grassroots coalition heard comments and took questions on the nearly 100-page application they submitted for a new independent charter school in Germantown.
The occasion was momentous, if not a bit stressful.
“I’m glad that’s over,” she said, a stack of documents in hand.
It’s now up to the School Reform Commission to decide if the Germantown Community Charter School becomes a reality or remains a dream detailed on paper.
The competition is stiff.
A total of 40 applicants are vying for what could be less than a handful of charters.
Despite some pointed questions during Wednesday’s hearing, coalition members walked away feeling optimistic about the February vote.
“We are providing something different, something organic and really community-driven,” said Julie Stapleton-Carroll, the group’s leader. “This can serve as a model for comprehensive high schools.”
The hearing focused on the school’s curriculum, which includes classes covering core subjects like English and math, but also “project-based” learning in hospitality and the building trades. Think plumbing and carpentry.
In particular, questions were raised about how those elements would blend during the school day and throughout a student’s time at the school, designed to serve middle school and high school students.
Meagan Reamer, program officer from the district’s Charter School Office, also said that it was unclear what the academic standards would be for both parts, but especially for vocational courses.
“That was just sort of a big gap in the curricular plan,” said Reamer.
Ground up approach
While some general details were provided, Stapleton-Carroll said she wants the curriculum to be created by the school’s staff once the charter is awarded.
That process, she said, will hopefully spur bonding, but more importantly, buy-in from teachers and administrators alike.
“We want them to own that,” said Stapleton-Carroll.
If approved, the school would open in Sept. 2016 and eventually be home to 1,050 middle school and high school students.
Students from the neighborhood would be given priority over students from the rest of the city.
Since its inception, the coalition has eyed the former home of Germantown High School to house the school.
The move will require cooperation from The Concordia Group, a Maryland-based development group that has bid $6.8 million for a package of shuttered schools including GHS.
The sale has not yet been finalized, but Concordia is aware of the coalition’s work and has expressed interest in a partnership.
“We’re going to hold them to that as a community,” said task force member Joe Budd. “If they don’t buy it and somebody else gets it, we’re going to approach them. We’re not going to let Germantown fall like that in the midst of revitalization.”
The Concordia Group was not available for comment.