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Parkland Airs Charter School Proposal

Circle of Seasons would open in fall 2012, possibly in Fogelsville, if approved by the Parkland School Board.

Phil Arnold, who helped establish the Seven Generations Charter School in Emmaus, made his pitch Tuesday night for a new, to be opened within the next year, but possibly in Fogelsville instead of South Whitehall.

Arnold said Circle of Seasons is in negotiations to buy the in Fogelsville, should the Parkland School Board approve its application, since the building would be move-in ready and allow for a fall 2012 opening. 

He said Circle of Seasons also would proceed with constructing or renovating a building at the in South Whitehall, where it would have a second location.

Arnold told the board at a hearing Tuesday that it's always tricky with charter schools, since applicants have to wait for approval before proceeding with building plans, so Circle of Seasons needed to come up with a Plan B, and if necessary, a Plan C.

About 60 people turned out for the two-hour charter school hearing, in which Parkland School District administrators extensively questioned Arnold, Waldorf teacher/consultant Eugene Schwartz and another representative about the proposed school's curriculum, finances, building and special education plans and academic calendar, among other items.

Arnold, addressing points made in the application, said the Waldorf-method curriculum infuses learning with creativity, incorporating music, arts, drama and creative play. He said there are more than 50 schools on the West Coast, so "something's working well."

Schwartz has explained at that the Waldorf method does not use conventional textbooks, but rather reinforces what children are learning by having them draw a picture about a lesson, for example. At the end of the school year, students have a journal, or workbook, chronicling each lesson.

When asked specifically Tuesday night about curriculum and instructional approaches for gifted children, Schwartz explained to the Parkland board and administrators that the Waldorf method does not differentiate among children. What's remarkable, he said, is that children will excel at something, regardless of their level of intelligence.

"We try not to segregate," he said.

That point proved especially important to several parents, with children in tow, who later spoke in favor of the charter school, particularly because the Waldorf method does not label children, either as gifted or educationally challenged.

Schwartz, in response to other questions on curriculum, said that Waldorf schools work on the whole child more slowly. A child may not reach grade level in reading skills, for example, until second grade, but later would take great leaps. "We work slowly at first," he said, "and we gradually accelerate."

One parent asked Parkland to make a progressive choice and approve the Circle of Seaons charter school so that parents could choose the educational option that's most appropriate for their children.

Arnold wants to launch in September 2012 with kindergarten, first and second grades, adding additional grades in the future. He told the board to consider the application for opening the charter school for kindergarten through 12th grades, with initial emphasis on kindergarten to eighth grades.

Several administrators and board members questioned Arnold, including Superintendent Richard Sniscak and assistant superintendent Rod Troutman; board members Roberta Marcus and Jayne Bartlett and solicitor Stephen Miller.

By charter school law, the board cannot vote on the charter school application until 45 days after the hearing, but must do so within 75 days of the hearing.

Among the criteria the board will consider is whether the applicant has demonstrated parental support for the charter school, an ability to provide comprehensive learning and whether it may serve as a model for other public schools.

Keith Williams of Orefield, a Parkland alum who was among those who attended the hearing, raised concerns about the charter school's curriculum and its de-emphasis on textbooks.

He told the board, "I challenge you to look at the curriculm closely." After the hearing, he said his concerns centered on how the time in the classroom would be spent.

Currently there are no charter schools operating within the Parkland School District's boundaries, though there are several in the Lehigh Valley. 

Charter schools are largely operated with state and local taxpayer money, funneled through the school districts where they are located. Allocations are based on what officials say is the cost-per-child to educate.

Earlier this month, Sniscak was among superintendents from five area counties who issued a  that condemned the use of public school budgets to fund charter schools and criticized them for not being subject to the same government oversight and mandates as public schools.

proudmommy December 21, 2011 at 08:07 PM
As a parent and as a Parkland alum I want to have the choice to send my child to Circle of Seasons Charter School. My husband and I cannot afford the $15,000/per year cost of a private education. This school will be giving this type of learning opportunity to children who deserve it, but whose parents just cannot afford the costs of private school. Parkland is not a bad School District, however it's not a good fit for EVERY child. Every child is their own individual and deserves to receive an education that can be tailored to each child's needs, not the rigid, teach to the test, curriculum that is now being forced down parents/children's throat, irregardless of whether or not it's a good fit for that child. COS is being developed in the Parkland District, because other area Districts already provide Charter School options. This is a new, progressive, opportunity for the Parkland School District to take on. This has NOTHING to do with Parkland being a "piggy bank". I really wish people would do their research prior to making misinformed comments.
Frediano December 22, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Wouldn't adequate research include knowledge of the following fact, from this very same source-- from this very same meeting? Quote: "Parkland School District officials are eyeing budget cuts for the 2012-2013 school year." "Parkland School District officials are considering cuts in personnel, transportation and supplies as they prepare the 2012-2013 budget, Business Director John Vignone told the school board at its meeting Tuesday night." "We know there are going to be tough decisions, no doubt about it," Vignone said. End quote. I don't think I've quite ever seen such a total non-starter in any context anywhere, ever, as this Walford pipedream during the current budget stress. A truly monumental clulessness about the reality of funding in the district. All 4 of the existing Walford schools in PA are private, not public charter schools. I've yet to see any actual argument, progressive or otherwise(especially progressive or otherwise)why a 5th Walford school in PA estabilshed in Parkland must be paid for publicly. Parkland is already footing the bill for the Cyber Charter option. Your husband and you cannot afford the $15,000/per year cost of a private education. Your point? You say that like it is a virtue of some kind, or some claim of entitelment. Don't take my advice, but educatation is primarily taken, not given. It is at most well offered. Education is and has been well offered, not only in Parkland, but ASD as well.
College Professor December 22, 2011 at 08:30 AM
Parkland does not "foot the bill" for a charter school, cyber or otherwise. The money follows the child (nor does any other school district "foot the bill"). Residents within any given school district pay their taxes, the money is collected by Harrisburg, the money gets sent back to each school district, and then the money that is allocated to educate a particular child gets forwarded to the charter school if that child attends a charter school. If a child moves from Parkland to Bethlehem and the money "follows the child" to his or her new school district, would anyone say that Parkland was then "footing the bill" for that child to attend a Bethlehem School District school? Also worth noting, the private Waldorf schools that you mentioned are all over an hour away from the Allentown area. It certainly is not realistic to ask most families to try to figure out how to come up with $15,000 in tuition while also asking them to spend at least 4 hours a day driving to and from school. One last point - We have three not-for-profit hospitals serving the Allentown area and we have a huge system of state universities in Pennsylvania. All of these are supported through tax dollars and tax breaks. The purpose of having all of these local hospitals and all of these state schools throughout Pennsylvania is so that families have a choice as to where to send their children for care and education. Why can't this approach also apply to our public education system???
Frediano December 22, 2011 at 03:25 PM
I'm sure that the board, as well as the administration, will be amazed to learn that most of the district funding comes from the state(and fed, while we're at it), and not local taxpayers(by far.) Because, without your insights, the folks actually doing the heavy lifting of dealing with this are thinking that most of what they are seeing coming back from Harrisburg and DC -- by far, not a little bit -- are underfunded mandates, not funding. I think you've singularly solved the budget stress with your assertions--if they were remotely close to the truth.. If a child moves from Parkland to BSD, his parents will be paying their school taxes to BSD, not Harrisburg. You need to go look at the details of an actual district budget and note where funding comes from. Harrisburg? DC? Not even close. It's also a little disconcerting to realize that diverse PA communities from Philadelphia to Wilkes Barre/Scranton and back to Upper Black Eddy are clearly able to -privately- establish thriving Waldorf schools as local community choices, but there is some characteristic of the Lehigh Valley which makes it so unable to do so that the only solution is to stress out already stressed out public school district budgets. What, exactly, is that characteristic that renders the need to publicly fund -this- Waldorf school different than the existing four Waldorf schools?
Frediano December 22, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Some of this may be largely moot if SB1 passes. If not, or until then, well, there is another board election in two years, and maybe half of the 9 seats will be open, and it will be possible to offer up board members willing to accept a four year unpaid term to deal with an endless assembly line of issues just like this, with little authority to influence the tax assessment appeals handed out by politicians elsewhere, and who are given the responsibility just the same of stitching up the gap between budget and costs to the local community(Harrisburg? DC? Ha. Casino revenues, no doubt.) The folks advocating this have had their chance to present their argument to the sitting elected board, who will follow the law and make their determination. That's the process. If they presented a well thought out argument and politically convinced the sitting board, they will get their wish, if not, not. The rest is noise. That sitting elected board has paid the price to have the authority to make this decision. They pay for it not just by subjecting themselves to the election process every four years, but with their unpaid thankless service for those four years. Once in a great while, a decision like this comes along and the cruise ship arrives, unloads a crowd for the moment, but for countless weeks and months, those are lonely meetings. For those who disagree with the boards eventual decision on this issue one way or the other, feel free.

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