Green Woods Charter considers move to Chestnut Hill

The School Reform Commission (SRC) delayed a vote this week that would allow Green Woods Charter School to expand. According to Barry Sunshine, a Green Woods board member, the school must grow from 225 to 675 students in order to survive.

“[225] kids turns out to be financially unsustainable,” he told PlanPhilly in January.

Jean Wallace, the school’s CEO, says this isn’t the first time the SRC has pushed back its vote, which was scheduled to take place at its Wednesday meeting. She says the commission first promised a vote around May 2010, then on June 16, 2010, then “in a few months,” then in January, and then on Feb. 16. Now, the SRC says it will vote on the expansion no later than April 20.

“It is extremely frustrating when we are working within an aggressive time line for budgeting and growth,” says Wallace. “But with such a successful school, we can’t imagine how the SRC — based on their own criteria for approval — can possibly turn us down.”

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The SRC sets enrollment caps for charter schools, so these schools must gain approval from the SRC if they wish to grow. Since September 2010, at least seven charter schools have sued over these enrollment caps, arguing that they go against state law. (Green Woods has not filed suit.) State Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola, an author of the charter school law, also filed court documents supporting one of the suits.

The commission claims that caps are in place because charter schools have agreed to them in written statements. Also, the SRC says that if it approved every charter school’s request for additional seats, it would cost the School District millions.

“The School District of Philadelphia is anticipating an unprecedented gap in funding,” says Jamilah Fraser, the School District’s communications chief. “We are aggressively planning next year’s budget, but at this time, we have a great number of unknowns and it would not be fiscally responsible to move forward with proposed expansion of charters.”

Green Woods is currently located on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center in Roxborough, where K-8 students learn about environmental topics like composting, bird migration and the Delaware River Watershed. In 2008, the School District gave Green Woods its Best Practices Award. Also, the year prior, it won a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.

Despite the SRC’s delay, Green Woods still plans to move off the Schuylkill Center grounds, which can’t hold more than 225 students due to an ’09 settlement, by September 2012. In a statement released on Friday, the school announced that it has entered into an agreement of sale with Greylock Manor property, which is on more than six acres of land in Chestnut Hill. The stone mansion, built in the early 1900s, overlooks the Wissahickon Valley. It still retains an original white marble staircase, and borders Fairmount Park.

The school will meet with nearby neighbors to discuss the move this Sunday, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Greylock, located at 209 W. Chestnut Hill Avenue.

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