Widener Community Partnership Charter School (WPCS) was the recent subject of a renewal hearing to consider the charter school’s application and faculty and parents spoke at the session at the Chester Upland School District Administration Building.
WPCS CEO April Thomas and Dr. Paula Silver, dean of the School of Human Service Professions at Widener University, presented their statements to the review board about why the school’s application should be renewed.
The charter school was founded in 2006 and has been renewed once in 2010. Currently, the school holds approximately 420 students.
What makes WPCS unique from other Chester charter schools is that it operates an independent, non-profit school that offers a holistic approach to education, they said.
This partnership with the neighboring university allows WPCS to have faculty, interns, tutors, after-school science programs, access to resources at the university and the summer Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) camp.
Silver said the mission of the school is to develop urban elementary kindergarten through eighth grade students with behaviors, commitment and the creativity to succeed in the current education environment.
WPCS has the potential to educate students to become citizens of character, she asserted.
“Our university partnership is something we’re very proud of at the school,” she said. “It’s the first private university in Pennsylvania that established a public charter school.”
“We’ve fulfilled the mission of our charter,” Silver said.
She discussed the features of WPCS, their partnership mission, highlights since 2010, leadership and governance, fiscal management and oversight, and faculty achievement over the next five years.
Parents of students are encouraged to collaborate with the students’ teachers and support services to address any barriers to academic achievement, Silver said.
The school provides a wide variety of student support services not available in other charter schools. For instance, social work, psychology and nursing interns work with staff to expand health services in the school, Silver said.
The university partnership has received a PECO Exelon grant to provide $1 million over the course of four years for the purpose of funding a summer STEM camp and extending technology in the school.
The charter school has also sought to increase its parent involvement. In fact, two parents of WPCS students spoke in favor of the school.
Guillaune LaForest, whose daughter, Lorielle, graduated WPCS and currently attends Cardinal O’Hara High School, said three of his children have attended the charter school, past and present.
Lorielle was ranked 60th in her class and maintains honor roll status and is a scholar athlete,” he said.
His son, Guillaune Pierrie LaForest, a seventh grader, attended the STEM camp last summer, LaForest said. Alina Laforest, a sixth grader, also maintains honor roll status at WPCS.
“All of these children continue to excel academically and socially,” LaForest said. “This is all attributed to the success at WPCS.”
Another parent, Patrice Tobe, is president of WPCS’ Parent Caregiver Council for the last eight years and is the mother of an eighth and sixth grader at the school.
Tobe believes the partnership between WPCS and parents plays a role in the development of students and the school.
“My children have developed socially and academically,” Tobe said.
Her eighth grader is a candidate for Archbishop John Carroll High School. Her sixth grader is an an honor student at WPCS.
“Widener includes the parents as part of the development of the school,” Tobe said.
The Parent Caregiver Council meets once monthly with teachers, parents and caregivers. Tobe feels the school gives parents a voice.
Principal Thomas said WPCS benefits teachers as well as students. For instance, the school develops the skills of its professionals to match the needs of its students. WPCS teachers and administrators are encouraged to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees at Widener University as part of the charter school’s tuition benefit program, Thomas said. Currently, 30 teachers are earning graduate degrees at the university.
“Learning for life is a value that we all embrace from administrative down to our students,” Thomas said.
The Danielson Effectiveness Model is used to assess professional development of the teachers, she said.
They also adopted the “My Learning Plan Oasis Software Suite” to streamline the way administrators provide instructional feedback to WPCS teachers.
WPCS is in the midst of ongoing curriculum development, Thomas said. Over the past five years, they have reevaluated and rewritten their K-6 curriculum and implemented a new middle school, math and a 100-book reading program.
Also, class sizes have been limited to a maximum of 17 students per classroom starting in the fourth grade, Thomas said.
Technologically, the WPCS integrates SMART Board software and tablets in the curriculum, as well as the Read A-Z Program for additional support for students and teachers, she said.
As a result of these faculty and student assessment programs, the school has seen outcomes over the past five years, Thomas said. From 2008 to 2011, WPCS achieved adequate yearly progress (AYP).
In the 2011-2012 school year the school received a warning, after which they implemented interventions to increase student improvement, she said.
From 2010 to 2014, there has been a decrease in the school’s scores. A cohort trend analysis showed some improvement in reading scores, but none in math scores, Thomas said.
“We believe we are making a difference, not only in the lives of our students, but in the lives of their families,” Thomas said. “And for those of us who find this work extremely rewarding; the lives of the professionals who embrace all that is happening at WPCS on a daily basis.”