Charter school effort gets boost in Penn Hills

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Charter school effort gets boost in Penn Hills

Post  HopefulInPh on Fri Oct 08, 2010 10:30 pm

By Tony LaRussa
Thursday, October 7, 2010

A company that operates 71 charter schools, including one in Regent Square, is helping parents who want to open a school in Penn Hills.

Arlington, Va.-based Imagine Schools is developing an application for a school that would employ a "micro-society" approach, which focuses on helping students develop skills they need to become entrepreneurs, a company official said. It is seeking a building to accommodate 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school would be similar to one Imagine operates in Vero Beach, Fla., where students developed a community inside the school complete with government agencies, businesses and currency.

"To be a successful entrepreneur, a person has to have a strong knowledge of all aspects of how the world around them operates," said Kerry Varkonda, spokesman for Imagine Schools. "Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but the creativity, skills and critical thinking that entrepreneurs need can benefit a person, no matter what job they do."

Varkonda said the company about seven months ago began helping parents with a charter application to submit to the Penn Hills School District, possibly by November. The school, if approved, could open next fall. It would accept students from any district but give preference to Penn Hills residents.

Imagine's Frick Environmental Charter School opened in Regent Square in 2008 for kindergarten through third-grade students. It added fourth grade this year and plans to add another grade each year.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of local districts, but are subject to approval by them. Denials can be appealed to the state. Much of the money to run charter schools comes from the per-student subsidies districts get from the state Department of Education, said Steve Weitzman, a department spokesman. A charter school must offer curriculum that differs from what students would receive in district schools.

Penn Hills School District pays about $3 million a year to educate 350 students at charter schools, said Richard Liberto, the district's director of business affairs.

The Penn Hills school would have rigorous curriculum, uniforms, a strict code of conduct and a requirement that parents, students and administrators sign a compact outlining what is expected of them, Varkonda said.

Jim Carmine and his wife, Emily Cantin, are among parents leading the effort to open the school. The oldest of their children attends Propel Charter School in North Braddock.

"I told my wife that it was probably time for us to move out of Penn Hills because there was no way we were going to send our kids to public school here," Carmine said. "But her response was that there was no way we were moving. She felt we'd never be able to find a house this nice that we could afford, so if I wasn't happy with the schools, I should do something about it."

Carmine, an associate professor of philosophy at Carlow University, taught philosophy classes at Penn Hills for third- and sixth-grade gifted students, and a college credit philosophy course at the high school.

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For information about Imagine Schools or the micro-society concept, visit:

I believe jdcarmine is the man to contact about this. Congrats Jdcarmine!!


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