GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Dr. Seuss themed opening of the Atlantic Community Charter School Thursday welcomed students with “oh, the places you’ll go.”
It was an appropriate choice for the school, which has moved from a flood-prone site in Atlantic City, to a brightly painted brick building on Route 9 in Galloway Township.
After spending last year learning in a trailer, sixth grader Dymond Wayne, 11, was very impressed.
“You could get lost here,” she said.
Formerly the Galloway Community Charter School, which closed, the site was purchased this year for use by the former Atlantic City Community Charter School, which got state Department of Education approval to expand its charter and move to the mainland. The school had been located temporarily at a former day care center and in trailers on Texas Avenue.
“We tried for three years to find another place in Atlantic City,” said Max Tribble, senior vice president at CSMI Education Management, the Chester, Pa. company that manages the Atlantic charter school and another in Camden.
The ACCS is not the only charter school that failed in their effort to locate a large enough suitable site in Atlantic City.
A second charter school, the International Academy of Atlantic City Charter School, is starting its second year at the former St. Peter’s School in Pleasantville while it obtains a larger permanent site. That school also anticipates having about 350 students this year in grades K-4, most coming from Atlantic City and Pleasantville.
Steven Bollar, vice president of elementary education at CSMI, said becoming a regional school and moving to Galloway attracted students from larger geographic area, and they now have students from Pleasantville and Galloway Township.
The new site has allowed the school to expand from 150 students to as many as 350 this year in grades K-6. Plans call for adding a grade each year for a maximum of 500 students in grades K-8.
The expansion of the charters does have an impact on the local public schools. Charter schools are free to students, but are funded through their local public schools. Atlantic City almost doubled the amount allocated to charter schools this year, from $4 million to $7.8 million. Pleasantville has budgeted $6 million, up from $2.5 million last year.
Atlantic City Councilman Jesse Kurtz has also sponsored a non-binding referendum on the November ballot to provide vouchers to families who want to send their children to private schools. But since the city has no authority to spend school district funds, and is struggling to balance its own budget, it is unclear where the money for vouchers would come from.
The former Atlantic City charter school students are bused to Galloway, which was a novelty for many, including Zymirah Gaines, 11, who said she was a bit scared, but the trip was fine. She is also impressed with the size of her new school.
Bollar said they intentionally painted the walls bright yellow and sky blue to create a welcoming, happy environment. The school’s principal, Jeanine Bethel, had founded and run the now closed Oceanside Charter School in Atlantic City.
“I was happy when I saw her,” said White, who had attended Oceanside.
The Galloway charter left behind a lot of materials and equipment, making the transition to the new school very smooth. The building looks brand new and teachers are also thrilled with the facility.
“It’s just so nice having places for them to go,” said third-grade teacher Jackie Ceresini, who taught in a trailer last year. “Last year we had to cross the street to get to a park. Here there’s a playground and so much more room.”
Second-grade teacher Amanda McCawley said students were amazed at the wooded setting, with trees outside the windows.
“They asked ‘are those real woods out there?’ “ McCawley said. “This is very different for them, but it is everything you’d want in a school.”
The larger includes a music, art and technology room, and even a kitchen. The school is contracting with the Galloway school district, which is providing staff on site to provide hot lunches.