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Accuracy of Charter School Applications Questioned

State denies Creative Studies' founder's bids for charters in Lacey and Voorhees

The state has not yet released a detailed explanation of its decision to dismiss the Creative Studies Charter School proposal, but the veracity of the organization's founder's applications to the state have been called into question.

Department of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf cited "deficiencies" in denying founder Pamela Brown's applications for charter schools in Lacey Township as well as Voorhees. A review of both applications shows two different residencies listed. 

Brown is not a permanent resident of Lacey Township and does not have a child attending Lacey schools, as stated on her application to the state and required by statute.

Brown said, “Her family is proud to be fourth generation Lacey homeowners," and listed her home at a Molokai Drive address in Lacey Township.

According to county records, “Sydney Brown et al” own the home. Sydney Brown is Pamela Brown’s mother, and Pamela Brown is indeed included on the deed.

“My family has owned [the house] since the '50s,” Pamela Brown said. “Owner is Sydney Brown 'et al.'. I am part of the 'et al'… So yes I am a homeowner.”

However, the home appears to be unoccupied, and neighbors confirmed that the home is not their primary residency and they return to Lacey for the summer. However, Lacey does not need to be Brown's primary residency in order to be qualified to establish a charter school.

According to state law, a “qualified founder” of a charter school must be either a teaching staff member or a parent with a child attending a school in the district.

The school district confirmed that Brown’s child is not a student in Lacey, school board President Jack Martenak said. The Voorhees School District confirmed that Brown is a resident of that municipality and her son is a student there.

“My son is in special ed, it is part of the reason as a parent that I wrote the charter, because he does not learn the same way that traditional students do,” Brown said. “But he is not enrolled in the Lacey system — a technical error in the founders section (on her application to the state).”

Brown is listed in the White Pages as a resident of Preston Avenue in Voorhees, which is the address she used for a Creative Studies Charter School application in that municipality. Cerf has yet to release a detailed explanation for the Voorhees denial, as well.

“It looks like a carbon copy,” Martenak said. There are sections in the Lacey application that still mention Voorhees and Camden County, he added.

“I just think it’s rather odd that she submitted an application with two different residencies,” he said. “It almost seems fraudulent.”

Brown emphasized that a founder does not have to be a resident to propose a charter.

“Any corporation like Imagine, Mastery, KIPP etc, can come in and set up a charter with one 'qualifying parent' who is a resident with children in the system,” she said. “Several parents have already expressed an interest.”

According to a non-scientific poll on Lacey Patch in December, 51 percent of the voters are in support of a Lacey charter school because “it is good to have a choice between the public school district and a non-traditional education.”

Brown still has not confirmed whether she will be reapplying in the future. If residency proves to be an issue, she may be able to simply find supportive parents to apply with her to the state as "qualified founders," as she did on her Voorhees application.

A detailed explanation for the state’s decision to deny the charter school is expected by Jan. 24.

Education not 'one size fits all'

“The mission of Creative Studies Charter School is to offer the community a public school of choice that deepens student learning, increases student achievement and strengthens the academic rigor of a comprehensive, standards based education by integrating the arts into the curriculum,” Brown's denied application states.

She envisioned Creative Studies to integrate music, art, drama and movement with academic subjects utilizing the Getty Foundation's Discipline-Based Education model.

“Public education is not one size fits all," she said. "Gifted students, typical learners, remedial students and students who are disengaged can all greatly benefit from approaching academics through their natural interests of music, art and drama.”

Brown had eyed the grounds of the historic Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center as a location for the school. But currently, there is no agreement between Creative Studies and Murray Grove, Executive Director Louise Ille told Patch in December.

“We spoke about the possibility,” she said. “It’s a long shot right now.”

Brown is a certified art teacher for grades kindergarten to 12 and a certified elementary education teacher for grades kindergarten through eight. She was a co-founder of SPEAK, Special Needs Parent, Educators and Kids in South Jersey.

The applications and denials for both Lacey and Voorhees charter schools are attached to this story as a PDF.

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