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Letter to the Editor: Seven Gen Expresses Support for School District

An open letter to the East Penn community

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As members of the (SGCS) community, we would like to express our support for the East Penn School District in their work to provide all children of East Penn with a stellar education. As a public school, we are fully aware of the difficulties and stresses that all educational institutions are facing in this economic and political climate. With our collective attention focused on the upcoming Pennsylvania primaries on May 17, we want to make clear the following:

  • We support public education as a core American value, and as a cornerstone of democracy. We stand against any policy or political movement that seeks to weaken or destroy the public education infrastructure of our communities.
  • We support children—the future of our communities, our nation, and the world--and the policies and decisions that meet their needs and help grow their intellectual, social, and citizenship capacities.
  • We support teachers as the cornerstone of education: we value their work, their professional commitment, and their expertise, and we feel that supporting teachers is an essential component of any attempts at educational reform.
  • We affirm the commitment of Seven Generations to being an asset and a robust community partner in the larger East Penn and Lehigh Valley communities. Our mission is to enhance the educational options available within the public school system.

We are proud to have our charter issued by East Penn School District, one of the strongest school districts in the region, and we seek collaborative opportunities to build even stronger communities through shared commitment to educational and institutional excellence.  

Sincerely,

Sarah A. Ongiri 
Ray Sullivan
Gina Badalaty
Chris Fosco
Michael J. Gill
Olaf Starorypinski
Scott Eggert
Eric Hardwick
Shannon Floyd
Jeremy Winch
Naomi Winch
Corrie van Aalst Adank
Ann DeLazaro
Renea L. DeGeorge
Rod A. DeGeorge
Alexander Grande
Pana Columbus
Lolita Garcia
Courtney Call Kennedy
Sarah Nicklin
James Moreno
Ann Quigley
Ken Burak
Dan Sullivan
Camilla Greene
Karen Konyk
Mary Ellen Jackson
Gissel Orellana
Mariska van Aalst
Matthew Linde
Theresa Lanyon
Christopher Lanyon
Brett Fadem
Sara Fadem
Ann Traweek
Robert Traweek
Lisa Fritz
Robert Fritz
George Allport
Pia Houseal-Allport
David Dougherty
Shelley Dougherty
Andrew Bresnan
Kristin Bresnan
Michelle M. Henriquez
Justin Valentin
Magdalena Valentin
Kathyrn Leslie
Karma Strydesky
Albert Strydesky
Ronald M. Lewis
Deanne Lewis
Brenda Cort
Kristina M. Seedorff

Facts about Seven Generations Charter School, submitted by SGCS

  • Seven Generations Charter School is a bricks and mortar school, located at 154 East Minor St in Emmaus, PA.
  • CHARTER SCHOOLS are PUBLIC SCHOOLS, and SGCS is no exception.
  • SGCS is chartered for K-12 by the East Penn School District under the Charter School Law of Pennsylvania.While SGCS is open to all students in our community, first preference given to children in the East Penn School District.
  • SGCS does not discriminate in its admission policies or practices on the basis of intellectual ability, athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, status as a person with a disability, proficiency in the English language, or any other basis.
  • No child has ever been expelled from SGCS, for any reason.
  • SGCS has 265 students in K-5, who hail from 24 different school districts in the region. Our plan is to add a grade every year until we reach 12th grade.
  • 110 of our students are currently from the East Penn School District (less than 50%).
  • SGCS has student waiting lists for every grade.
  • Although PA charter school law only requires 75 percent of teachers at charter schools be certified, over 90 percent of SGCS teachers are certified.
  • SGCS has an equal percentage of students (12.45%) with special needs IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) in our student body as the other schools in East Penn (~13%).
  • Charter schools must meet the same state-mandated education standards as other public schools but with reduced financial resources .
  • Our funding is provided by each students home school district, and consists
    of approximately 80% of their calculated per student expenditure. So, for example, we currently receive approximately $8,536 from East Penn for each of the EPSD students who are enrolled at SGCS. This figure is 80% of EPSD’s per-student expenditure of $10,670. East Penn retains the balance.*
  • The cost of our school to the East Penn School District represents less than 1% (approximately 0.77%) of their budget.*
  • The educational innovations we offer include an experiential, project-based curriculum that promotes mutual respect, creativity, sustainability, and hands-on service learning in nature and the community as well as in the classroom.
  • We believe that robust public education is essential to our democracy and to the future of our nation.
  • We are committed to being an asset to the community, and a valued entity within the EPSD.

*Extrapolated from the EPSD budget with SGCS EPSD enrollment figures

nicole bassett May 11, 2011 at 10:06 PM
On behalf of EPIC, a group of East Penn citizens united in support of high-quality public schools, I would like to thank the Seven Generations Charter School community for voicing their support of public education. Seven Generations is a valued part of the East Penn School District and we welcome and appreciate them as partners in support the of academic excellence in all East Penn Schools. -Nicole Bassett Chairperson, EPIC
concerned_citizen May 11, 2011 at 10:33 PM
As it currently stands by my estimation, more than 1.5 million dollars is being directed away from East Penn Schools to Seven Generations. 7 Generations accounts for .77 of our budget but only seems to have .03 of the kids in the district? Also, by current test scores, East Penn Elementary Schools are achieving higher scores. As a result, the question I would like to ask is: "Why should East Penn Taxpayers be funding a charter school, when we have schools in district, that are established, that providing an excellent education, and have demonstrated such standards for years?"
concerned_citizen May 11, 2011 at 10:36 PM
Please feel free to provide corrects stats, I am inquiring and don't want to spread misinformation.
ckennedy May 12, 2011 at 03:37 PM
I don’t know where you are getting your numbers from, but consider the following: 7-gen receives only about 80% of the east-penn per student expenditure from East Penn. Then East Penn is reimbursed an additional 20% at the end of the year (this additional 20% happened last year and will this year - but may not next year - depends on the state budget). So the school district actually only pays about 60% of the per-student expenditure to 7-Gen (you can see it as a very economical way for East Penn to keep the classroom sizes down). "Our funding is provided by each students home school district, and consists of approximately 80% of their calculated per student expenditure. So, for example, we currently receive approximately $8,536 from East Penn for each of the EPSD students who are enrolled at SGCS. This figure is 80% of EPSD’s per-student expenditure of $10,670. East Penn retains the balance.*"
concerned_citizen May 12, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Can you please provide additional financial information about how much Seven Generations receives from the East Penn District. Also, why should the East Penn District be responsible for charting a school, when less then 50% of the students are from East Penn per the data available. I feel strongly that the money Seven Generation schools, whether it is $1.5 million or $750,000 should not be taken out of the community schools. If you want a private school, with a private curriculum, you are entitled to that, just not at the expense of the East Public Schools, which could then allocate those resources more effectively as proven by recent data.
Ellie May 12, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Thank you for this letter and related facts about Seven Generations. My family and I support the parents, children, teachers, and administrators who make it a wonderful place for progressive, thoughtful, and rigorous education. Regards, Ellie Fulmer
Mariska van Aalst May 12, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Concerned Citizen: I can certainly appreciate that you feel strongly about this issue. Many do. However, the creation of a charter school is a protected legal right in the Commonwealth of PA. From PA Charter School Law: "It is the intent of the General Assembly, in enacting this article, to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure as a method to accomplish ALL [caps mine] of the following: 1. Improve pupil learning. 2. Increase learning opportunities for all pupils. 3. Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods. 4. Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site. 5. Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system. 6. Hold the schools established under this act accountable for meeting measurable academic standards and provide the school with a method to establish accountability systems." Seven Gen provides an alternative educational option for the entire district. Emphasizing integrative, hands-on, community-based service learning, Seven Gen follows a curricular framework called EIC: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning. Please check it out! http://www.seer.org/pages/eic.html
Mariska van Aalst May 12, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Per Charter School law, after admission of siblings of current students and children of founding members, a lottery was held for all available spaces in the 2011-2012 Kindergarten class. All available spaces (32) were claimed by East Penn students. Six East Penn children remain on the waiting list, and those children would get first priority, should any of the currently enrolled students withdraw. Thereafter, the waiting list has 29 children from outside the district.
Mariska van Aalst May 12, 2011 at 06:22 PM
To be clear, my prior comment was only regarding the Kindergarten class. All other grades have waiting lists as well.
concerned_citizen May 12, 2011 at 08:14 PM
Dear Mariska Van Aalst or any other interested party, In regards to point 1 for the point purpose of point / counterpoint based on the data available, I have one question: 1. Based on the data that is available, has Seven Generations improved student learning in comparision to the other elementary schools that are available in the East Penn School District? It appears based on the data that I have seen, that Seven Generation is not scoring higher than the rest of the elementary schools. So for me, I have difficulty in understanding why in this district, a charter school should be funded in these difficult economic times, when we are having to layoff or not hire teachers in the home district.
Krissy Bresnan May 13, 2011 at 02:59 AM
I want to thank Concerned Citizen for voicing their concerns about the role of charter schools in public education, and about Seven Generations in East Penn, in particular. I think you pose valid questions, and I am grateful for Patch for providing an electronic version of a town square where we can engage in some open (if heated) discussion. So, I'd like to address some individual points. First, the question of why East Penn should have a charter school at all. As Mariska pointed out, the Charter School Law of PA creates the opportunity. The law was passed to provide a mechanism for encouraging innovation in curriculum and educational models outside of those already in place. The funding model (80% of per student expenditure from home district goes to charter school while the home district retains 20%) acknowledges the administrative burden on the home district for each student while trying to assure that a fair proportion of per student dollars actually goes to the school that the student attends.
Krissy Bresnan May 13, 2011 at 03:04 AM
Secondly, regarding the most recent question of comparative educational quality between SGCS and EPSD. As was stated in the fact sheet, SGCS draws students from 24 school districts, and less than 50% are from East Penn. So not every kid enrolled at Seven Generations has had the benefit of an East Penn education in their background. Based on data from other "green" charter schools (there are more than 300 nationally), test scores tend to rise for students who have been in the green charter school for 2 years or more - a benchmark Seven Gen has not yet hit. The Philadelphia green charter school (www.greenwoodscharter.org/ ) draws children almost entirely from the Philadelphia School District. Using PSSA scores, their students on enrollment reflect their baseline, but after 2 years at Green Woods, their students were averaging at or above the 90th percentile - an enviable record for anyone to aim for.
Krissy Bresnan May 13, 2011 at 03:16 AM
And finally, Concerned Citizen, while I welcome the opportunity to address your questions, and I believe wholeheartedly that it is all of our obligations to hold any expenditure of public money to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, if your aim is to support East Penn and public education, then I truly believe that the skirmishes about Seven Gen are a diversion. There are very real perils to the standards you are hoping to uphold: some of them already sit on the EPSD school board, and some of them are running for office. They certainly have sway in the current state and national administrations, and are having a far larger impact on EPSD budget than Seven Gen. If you indeed support EPSD and public education, then we agree on far more points than we differ on. Lets work together to ensure that all children in our community continue to have access to a top notch education. Thanks.
Mariska van Aalst May 13, 2011 at 03:32 AM
To answer Concerned Citizen's comment about test scores: Seven Gen's 2010 PSSA results, the only results on record as of yet, reflect the test-taking performance of students from many districts represented at the school, not just East Penn students. The two highest grades at Seven Gen in 2010 were 3rd and 4th grade and, as such, were the only two tested. Combined, they had a total of less than 90 students. This small of a sample would heavily weight any child’s individual score. Considering many of that limited number of children came to Seven Gen from less advantaged and/or underperforming schools and districts, and had only received 6 months of Seven Gen instruction, I think any educator would agree that those scores are not a fair or accurate gauge of Seven Gen’s current performance. Perhaps after a few years of instruction, with a larger sample of children taking the tests, we will see a more accurate snapshot of how PSSAs reflect Seven Gen students' test-taking abilities. But while Seven Gen does take accountability and results very seriously, one of the reasons Seven Gen was founded was to explore a broader definition of student "success," to include so-called “authentic assessments,” such as portfolios, narrative teacher evaluations, performances, individual and group projects, demonstrated collaboration and mutual respect, and service learning achievements, in our measures of success. None of these can be fully captured by Scantron and a #2 pencil.
Christi May 13, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I fully support Seven Generations Charter School. This is my daughter's second year and she is loving it! Christi Dunning
sharon August 03, 2011 at 09:19 PM
I have been very pleased with the education my son is receiving at Seven Generations. He was in first grade last yr however was on a 3rd grade reading and math level.. much to my surprise he actually got to work on that level . My daughters attended public school and were ahead but always had to work at the level of the classroom. The teachers are great and I love how personable all are with the school size being smaller it is like a family all know each other, different grade teachers know many of the students they have not even taught yet by name.
Kristina Massey August 06, 2011 at 12:34 PM
My son is entering his third year at Seven Generations this year (4th grade). I cannot tell you how pleased I am with his academic and social progress since starting there in 2nd grade. He is much more confident and happy, and is now doing math on the level he should be, not what the classroom level is. He was not being challenged enough through his home district (not East Penn) Seven Generations is raising responsible young people to care about the environment and their community, above and beyond the wonderful academic environment he is in. My second son starts in Sept in K, and my third son will hopefully come in 3 more years.
Stan Zukowski August 06, 2011 at 05:35 PM
I'll chime in with support. My son is entering his third year, and both the education and the personal growth that he has experienced have been wonderful. In addition to traditional/required academic subjects (the three R's etc.) he has developed a truly amazing interest in the world around him. But it's his always-growing curiosity in both how and why things work ~ as opposed to memorizing of facts and figures ~ that truly amaze me and my wife. 7Gen has helped develop his problem-solving skills, his personal perspective (putting himself and his community in context with the world), his ability to compromise and his empathy for others. In a time when this country is very polarized, I'm grateful that we have an educational resource that is dedicated to helping young people understand that the world is not a black-and-white place, and that problems are best solved together rather than in opposition with each other. Let's be very clear here ~ 7Gen is not a replacement East Penn School. It's an entirely different educational model ~ one that is working very well and is improving each year.

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