The Widener Partnership Charter School, the state’s first university-based charter, on Thursday unveiled the new $4.6 million wing of the school at 1450 Edgmont Ave. The 28,000-sq-ft. addition includes a Science Learning Center, an extension of the library, a gymnasium, eight classrooms and eight offices.
“This is truly an exciting day for the school and the Chester community,” said Principal Rosemaria McNeil-Sampson. “This is all about providing our students with a first-class facility for teaching and learning that they can be proud of.”
During the ceremony, the school also dedicated its new Science Learning Center to the PECO/Exelon Foundation. In April, the foundation announced a $1 million grant to the school to fund science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and programs to encourage parental involvement at the school.
The school, which opened in fall 2006, was originally chartered to serve kindergarten through fifth grade, but as students entered fifth grade, parents approached the university requesting that the school expand. In March 2011, the Chester Upland School District approved the university’s request to expand the charter to include grades six through eight.
“The parents clearly wanted their children to continue in the charter school,” said Widener President James T. Harris III. “After pursuing several options, and having many conversations with the school district and parents, we believed the best way forward was to expand our charter.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new wing came one week after the school learned that it had achieved adequate yearly progress on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test, one of only two schools in the district to make the grade this year. The school has achieved adequate yearly progress each year since its students started taking the test in 2010.
The Chester Upland School District has pointed to the charter schools that serve the district as a primary reason for the district’s budgetary woes in recent years. The school district reimburses charter schools on a per-student rate based on the calculated cost to educate a student. Charter schools receive a higher reimbursement for students designated as “special needs.”
According to Dr. Paula Silver, dean of the Widener School of Human Service Professions and chairperson of the Widener Partnership Charter School Board of Trustees, the Widener Partnership Charter School maintains a low enrollment, and only 11 percent of students are special need, much lower than the district and state averages.
“The entire Chester community can take pride in what the Widener Partnership Charter School has achieved,” Silver said. “There are good teachers and good schools in the district. We should be focusing on what the good schools are doing right and how we can work together to replicate those efforts in a cost-effective manner throughout the district.”
Silver said the school takes a holistic approach to education that emphasizes a low student to teacher ratio, the social and emotional development of each student, a close partnership with parents and caregivers, and the inclusion of music, art, drama, foreign language instruction, and physical and health education as integral parts of the curriculum.
Because it is affiliated with Widener, the school receives a variety of supports from the university including education faculty and students who support and enhance the instruction of classroom teachers, graduate students from social work and clinical psychology who provide a range of services to the students and their families, and the use of university facilities such as the Science Teacher Center and the Art Gallery. The charter school also receives support from the School of Hospitality Management, the School of Business Administration and the Institute for Physical Therapy Education.
The new wing was financed and built by the university, and the university charges the school rent annually. However, no university tuition dollars or district reimbursement funds were used to build the new wing.