On March 1, Kimberly Harrington, the New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education, approved Princeton Charter School’s expansion proposal to increase the student body by 76 students through the addition of an extra class for each grade from K-2.
The proposal also seeks to change the PCS lottery system to benefit students who are economically disadvantaged and from various minorities. A weighted lottery will be implemented with a two-to-one advantage during the selection process.
PCS claims that the plan will aid with the issue of growing enrollment within the Princeton Public Schools district.
Harrington supported her decision on the issue, claiming that thorough review was made before coming to a verdict and believing that the expansion will ultimately benefit the school by diversifying the population both racially and socioeconomically.
“The New Jersey Department of Education has completed a comprehensive review including, student performance on statewide assessments, public comment, fiscal impact on sending districts, in order to render a decision regarding the school’s amendment request,” said Harrington in a letter to Paul Josephson, President of the Board of Trustees for PCS.Some former and current PCS students expressed contentment for the school’s expansion and criticized the hostility that has been generated toward PCS.
“I think it’s a little troubling, the way that [the expansion] has been talked about by a lot of people including the superintendent. It [has] caused a lot of hatred and dislike for PCS students, just because their parents decided to put them in the school,” said Ethan Black ’17, a former PCS student.
“In a way I was happy that Charter had finally gotten what it initially wanted, but in the same sense I was a little frustrated because now I realize that the school is going to be… almost symbolically ostracized. Charter has been a home for me since I was little and it saddens me to watch its reputation deteriorate based on [impressions from] other schools,” said Katherine Martin ’21, current PCS student.
PCS parents showed their support of the decision made by Harrington, claiming that charter schools provide parents the opportunity to choose where their children can go to school.
“I’m supportive of the [PCS] expansion because I am supportive of offering our community choice … and we have the opportunity to do that, so as a supporter of [PCS], I am glad to see that they can expand,” said PCS parent Stephanie Sandberg. “I hope the community can come together a little more in terms of understanding as we do have this option and we do provide choice.”
On the contrary, PPS has expressed disappointment with the decision made by Harrington. PPS has repeatedly voiced their opposition to the expansion through forums for parents, where the dangers of the expansion were explained; mainly, the potential financial impact it could have on the district with a loss of 1.2 million dollars. Additionally, PPS encouraged parents to write letters to Harrington urging her to support PPS.
In a Board statement released on March 2, Superintendent Steve Cochrane expressed concern for the district’s ability to provide educational opportunities for students in the future.
“We have the responsibility and the privilege to educate a wonderful diversity of nearly 3800 students. We remain concerned that this decision will affect our long-term ability to provide those students with the outstanding academic and co-curricular experiences they deserve.”
Despite PPS resistance to the outcome, some PCS students feel that PPS will not be as heavily affected as they claim they will be.
“ I don’t necessarily think that [the expansion] going to drain the other schools of opportunities. I think people are a little narrow minded and closed off because they think [PCS] is taking money from them,” Martin said.
PPS parents have shown resentment toward the verdict as they feel their voices were not heard leading up to the decision.
“I was really disappointed, because we had no say. We worked so hard to show how [the] Princeton Township really feels, and it didn’t work,” said Dina Shaw, a PPS parent and a member of Keep PPS Strong, a parent led organization that was opposed to the expansion.
“I felt very disappointed [with the verdict] because I know that there is no need for a charter school in Princeton… [and] the impact of this expansion would be very widespread across the elementary, the middle, and the high school,” said Kristen Suozzo, another member of Keep PPS Strong. “I was very upset that [the expansion] was going to be happening, and I was angry because this was not a decision made by the community, [but a decision] made by one political appointee in Trenton.”
Some PHS students now feel anxious about the future of the district.
“I think [the expansion] already has led to tensions [with] an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mindset. It is important to remember that [students at] PCS, Cranbury, and John Witherspoon Middle School all end up coming together at [PHS],” said Raisa Rubin-Stankiewicz ’20.
A portion of PHS teachers also feel that the approval of the expansion will ultimately lead to further disunity among parents and students.
“I think that there will be more acrimony over budget shortfalls, but mostly I think the community will become divided,” said Malachi Wood, a French teacher at PHS.
Few PHS students also feel that despite the large student population within Princeton, the expansion will not provide an equal opportunity to education provided by PCS for all Princeton children.
“As a Charter school alum, I value the education and level of academics that I received there, but I still firmly believe that every child in this town deserves an education like that. 76 more students will not meet the incredible demand Princeton families have for a spot in Charter,” said Talia Fiester ’19.
As a result of the dissatisfaction with the approved enrollment plan from both district staff, parents, and students, PPS announced that the district will be releasing an appeal on the decision on March 7.
According to the Board statement, the appeal will be taken under consideration within the Appellate Division of the state Superior Court, in an attempt to reverse the decision.
In the announcement, Cochrane claimed that the Princeton community should not have to pay for the limited increase in students for PCS while the PPS population continues to grow.
“We are filing this appeal on behalf of the students and the taxpayers of the Princeton community,” wrote Superintendent Steve Cochrane. “It is economically, educationally, and ethically unjust that a majority of the allowable increase in the school budget will fund the expansion of 76 students at the Princeton Charter School, while leaving a much smaller portion for the nearly 3800 students in the growing and far more diverse Princeton Public Schools.”
As the appeal is filed, PPS has expressed a desire for civility within their schools and hopes that the PCS expansion will not lead to further conflicts within the student body and larger community.