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, Waldorf-method charter school to be opened within the Parkland School District next year, but possibly in Fogelsville instead of South Whitehall.
Arnold said Circle of Seasons is in negotiations to buy the former Penn State building 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 Manito Equestrian Center 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 earlier informational sessions 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 statement 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