A group denied permission to open a new public charter school has begun a petition drive to overturn the decision of the Harrisburg school board.
The board of the proposed PA STEAM Academy needs to gather valid signatures from 1,000 city residents, 18 years and older, to force the matter to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.
“The bottom line is—what’s in the best interest of the kids?” said Susan Kegerise, a former Susquehanna Township school district superintendent and now a member of the proposed charter school’s board. “We’re going to keep going because it’s in the best interest of the kids.”
PA STEAM Academy has until mid-April—60 days following the city school board’s unanimous denial of its charter application on Feb. 19—to gather the signatures for its appeal. If the court validates the petitions and issues a decree, the matter goes to the state Department of Education’s seven-member Charter School Appeal Board, which will make a final decision to affirm or overturn the school board’s decision.
To coordinate the petition drive, PA STEAM has contracted with Maverick Strategies, a Harrisburg-based consultant and lobbying shop. Over the next six weeks, Maverick will lead the effort to gather signatures during city festivals, on 3rd in the Burg nights, in Strawberry Square and at the Broad Street Market, among other places, according to PA STEAM board members.
Canvassers will also go door-to-door to gather signatures, with the goal of substantially exceeding the 1,000-signature mark, they said.
In the meantime, PA STEAM is still moving forward with a planned opening for the fall semester, said Carolyn Dumaresq, president of the charter school board and a former state secretary of education.
To do so, board members will need to hire a principal, six teachers and support staff, in addition to accepting the first round of students.
PA STEAM plans to open with 120 students, grades K-2, in Midtown 2 at N. 3rd and Reily streets in Harrisburg. The 115,000-square-foot building is currently occupied by HACC, but the college’s lease expires in 2022, and it is slated to begin moving programs out of the building later this year.
PA STEAM plans to expand on an annual basis, adding a grade level each year until it becomes a K-8 school. It also expects to grow horizontally, so that each grade level eventually would have 80 students.
Kegerise said that the PA STEAM Academy would feature small class sizes of 20 students, with a teacher and an aide per classroom, along with a strong creative component, community involvement, alignment among curriculum areas, skills integration and an emphasis on the use of technology. STEAM itself stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Doug Neidich, another board member, said that he believes it’s vital to offer educational options to young parents, many of whom leave the city when their children reach school age. He said that he envisions PA STEAM Academy as a possible feeder school for the city’s well-regarded SciTech High and for the arts-focused CASA charter school.
“We spent a ton of time getting this right, and we look forward to launching it,” said Neidich, CEO of GreenWorks Development, which owns the Midtown 2 building.
Dumaresq served for about 18 months as the state’s education secretary under former Gov. Tom Corbett. However, she said she doesn’t believe that her tenure necessarily will give the PA STEAM Academy an edge if the matter does go before the Charter School Appeal Board.
“It might seem like an advantage, but they’re very independent thinkers,” Dumaresq told TheBurg.
Elizabeth Hardison of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported today the Appeal Board remains populated with holdovers from the Corbett administration, as Gov. Tom Wolf has not made his own appointments.
For more information on the charter school appeals process, visit https://www.education.pa.gov/K-12/Charter%20Schools/Pages/Charter-Appeals.aspx.
For more information on the petition drive, contact Amanda Boris at firstname.lastname@example.org.