Germantown makes its pitch for community charter school at former GHS site

In Kelly green T-shirts, they linked hands and prayed for a neighborhood.

“Germantown is a place with many seeds that are ready to swell,” said Rev. Lorelei Toombs, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. “As the sun shines down on us today … show us the beauty of the spring that is to come.”

The peaceful, impromptu moment came minutes before more than 40 members of the Germantown Community Charter School Coalition sat down for a pressure-packed hearing at School District Headquarters.

Educational-restoration quest

After losing two neighborhood schools last June, the grassroots group desperately hopes the School Reform Commission will give it the opportunity to open a new independent charter school in the heart of the community.

For them, it’s not just about education, but the revitalization of a bruised slice of Northwest Philadelphia, they say, is at a “tipping point.”

“It’s really been a difficult year — spiritually and emotionally,” said Rev. Andrew Foster, who leads Janes Memorial United Methodist Church.

Their pitch

During a 15-minute presentation on Monday, coalition members presented the highlights of the group’s 96-page application, including a brief overview of the school.

In a big-picture sense, the group hopes to open an independent charter school serving 1,050 neighborhood students in grades six through 12.

Students would be taught traditional subjects, but also “21st century” skills tied to job-readiness, namely in hospitality and construction. All classes would be held in “small learning environments.”

Down the road, the coalition hopes to co-locate with a boutique hotel and a restaurant. Both would be folded into the school’s curriculum in some way.

“Our students need to have practical skills,” said Julie Stapleton-Carroll, who has spearheaded the coalition since the closures of GHS and nearby Robert Fulton Elementary.

Bigger than just a school

More of the presentation, however, focused on the need for a new school in Germantown and, as its name implies, the community support and sense of unity that’s motivated members to press forward with the concept over the past year and a half.

“We are Germantown. We are Germantown,” shouted coalition members as Stapleton-Carroll ticked off the organizations backing the coalition.

That idea — and a desire to foster it — bled over into a late afternoon public-comment session.

For state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, a GHS grad, the school would send a powerful message to a neighborhood where budget deficits have “altered the course” of its history.

“Work with us,” he said. “Let’s show our students in the Germantown community that they are not forgotten souls.”

And, added Yvonne Haskins, that neighborhood change is possible.

“This community power is the magic the SRC needs in every community across the city to find a way to make the difference,” said Haskins, a board member of Germantown United CDC. “This power brings a partnership money can’t buy and politicians can’t ordain. … It is community driven, rich and rare.”

What happens now?

Under state law, the SRC must make a decision within 75 days of Monday’s hearing.

All 40 applicants will return, likely in mid-January, for a second hearing featuring questions and comments from the district’s Charter School Office and final statements.

The Germantown Community Charter School Coalition is going up against well-known charter school operators such as ASPIRA and Mastery.

They’re not alone

The list, however, also includes another group interested in opening a charter school in neighborhood.

Non-profit WAY Haberdashery and Redemptive Enterprises hope to open the Philadelphia Career and Technical Academy.

The school’s STEM-based curriculum would ultimately be offered to 600 high school students, who would each choose a specialty in which to receive certification.

They include certified nursing, automotive technology, computer networking, culinary arts and business.

“We want them to be able to relate and connect to the rest of the world,” said Frank Robinson, president of Redemptive Enterprises, during Monday’s hearing.

The group is eyeing a plot owned by Ken Weinstein in southwest Germantown.

There is no set number of charter schools the SRC must approve, but it’ll likely be fewer than a handful.

Boots on Germantown ground

As she stood in the cold before boarding a yellow school bus for North Broad Street, Stapleton-Carroll said she’s confident the coalition’s application will become a reality.

“In my eyes, it’s for the district to deny us,” she said.

If approved, the school would open in Sept. 2015.

The Concordia group, a Maryland-based company, has bid $6.8 million for a handful of shuttered school district properties, including GHS.

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