Are charter schools public schools? Are they free or do I have to pay to send my child/ren there?
Charter schools are independent public schools. They are publicly funded, which means that there is no tuition to attend a charter school. Charter schools must follow all non-sectarian and nondiscriminatory enrollment policies, including enrollment of students with disabilities. Charter Schools are subject to state and federal regulations but operate independently of the traditional school district structure. Charter Schools are governed by a Board of Trustees who are defined by law as public officials.
Summit School of the Poconos, currently a private, tuition-based school will transition to Summit Charter School, a public, tuition-free school. Once the charter school is approved and operating, the Summit School of the Poconos (private) will dissolve, making the education we provide available to more students in our community.
How is this “free” and what about my taxes, especially if I don’t have children enrolled at the charter school?
Critics say charter schools “take” money from public districts. In reality, the money follows the student from the district school to the charter school (where the student is now being educated). All of the money doesn’t go to the charter – only about 75% of it is passed on with the child. The resident district gets to keep the rest.
Because charter Schools across Pennsylvania receive approximately 75% of the funding that traditional public schools receive, they operate with less public funding than traditional public schools. There are many reasons why a school district may raise taxes, and it’s unfair that charter schools should be highlighted as a reason when rising pension costs are one of the greatest drivers of school district budget issues.
It’s important to remember that taxpayer money funds public education – both in traditional district-managed schools and in public charter schools. This money is meant to serve the public need, and we believe that part of fulfilling that need is the ability to offer various education options to serve the many different students in our community so they all have a place in which to thrive.
Also, consider this: most real estate agents will tell you that the first thing a prospective home buyer with a family will ask about are school options. Many of those individuals who are considering Monroe County will then proceed to buy a house outside of Monroe County. And one of the reasons? Limited education options. Additionally, local residents chose to attend private or charter schools outside of the county (the end result is that the money leaves the county regardless).
Education is a basic socio-emotional need, one of the first building blocks for success in life. If we are to attract residents and businesses to Monroe County, we need to offer more than what we have now. We need choice. Not just any choice, but well strategized, strong options. We need collaboration. We need to honor the unique learning styles and needs of students. One size does not fit all. If it did, there wouldn’t be more than a million students nationwide on charter school waitlists and 3.2 million students enrolled in charter schools nationwide.
Have you ever looked at how our Monroe County School Districts compare to others statewide or nationally? We have high taxes, yet there are no blue ribbon schools here. The Pocono Mountain School District, in particular, struggles with a myriad of geographic and socio-economic challenges that are out of their control. Perhaps part of the key to obtaining more student success is to offer various learning environments that better match the needs of students.
We need to position Monroe County to be attractive in a way that it is not currently. It’s worth saying again – education is a basic socio-economic need.
Who will own Summit Charter School?
Summit Charter School will not be owned by anyone or any company. The School will be a non-profit organization at the federal and state levels, as is Summit School of the Poconos now, the licensed private school that is the foundation for the development of Summit Charter School.
Is someone getting rich off of our tax dollars?
We read the news, too. There are bad actors in all sectors. Two things to remember:
As a licensed private school, Summit School of the Poconos has built an excellent reputation in our area, earning support from local parents, businesses, politicians, and educators since our inception in 2016.
Our board is comprised of local residents with deep roots in Monroe County. These individuals represent a cross section of professions who have enjoyed success in their respective fields. Many are well known and highly respected in the community. All who serve on the Summit School of the Poconos Board intend to stay on as board members of Summit Charter School.
It is our goal to work with as many nonprofit organizations as possible in regards to the operation of our school, and we are required by law to seek out the best cost to benefit.
We are not a “chain charter school” managed by a group of people looking to make money on a bad system.
Together, these factors point to the future strength and success of the proposed charter school.
Think that traditional public schools with publicly elected board members don’t have woes of misappropriation of funds, poorly managed budgets, and other illegal activity, including theft?
Click here to browse through just a few links that lead to examples of all of this and more.
One or two black sheep do not make a whole flock. There are some bad charter schools and many good charter schools, just as there are some bad traditional schools and many good traditional schools.
We encourage you to think it through. Do your research. Learn about charter schools. Examine both sides. Learn about our 100+ year old traditional school system that is in need of reform. (We’ve never met a public school employee who didn’t believe our system needs reform!) Learn about your child and what works best for them. Learn about Summit School and whether it’s a fit for them. Like any school, we are not a fit for all, but we are a good fit for many. We encourage you never to act from fear or desperation but from a place of true power: knowledge.
Who’s in charge of making sure the Charter School follows the rules?
Charter schools are directly accountable to the authorizing school district board, in this case the Pocono Mountain School District, who has the authority to renew or not renew a school’s charter for poor performance among other reasons. Both are accountable to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Once appointed, a charter school board member, just like a traditional school board member, is a public official who must comply with the PA Ethics Act and file an annual Statement of Financial Interest Form. The fiduciary responsibility of the oversight and governance of the School remains.
The board must also comply with the PA Sunshine Law regarding open public meetings. Financial statements are audited annually. Checks and balances do exist.
And again, one of those checks and balances is the oversight of the local resident school district.
Our board and staff welcome transparency. We can do more than tell you what we plan to do – we can show you. We invite anyone – parents, public school board member, teacher, student, community members – to come and see what we are doing.
What makes the education at Summit Charter School so different?
Oh, we could talk all day about what makes Summit School different! When the founders of Summit School of the Poconos first began to plan for its inception, we knew we didn’t want to pull from just one educational model or culture. We researched the good and the bad, best and worst practices, student outcomes, we visited schools, we analyzed and agonized until we had what we felt was the best of many things. And, in the end, Summit School was born.
We are a school of project-based learning, alternative seating, and movement with a focus on critical thinking skills, growth mindset, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).
At Summit, you’ll often see kids sprawled out on the floor, building a replica of something they’re studying. Perhaps they’re building a windmill from popsicle sticks and straws. Perhaps they’re using a box fan, wind blowing at high speed, to race student-designed mini cars made from paper and styrofoam materials. Whose will go fastest? Whose is most aerodynamic? Did the weight of your chosen materials make your car more sturdy or did it just make it go slower?
Or, you may see a group of students sitting together on bean bags or a couch, notebooks or chrome books propped on their laps, working on a joint project together. Do they agree all the time? Of course not. Do they learn how to collaborate, think critically, respect one another’s opinions, reflect on their work and make adjustments for success? Do they learn how to think innovatively, regard failures as learning opportunities, and possess the grit and determination not to give up? You bet they do. And they are assessed on those soft skills, too.
At Summit School, our classrooms are full of movement. Neatly-lined rows of desks are not at home in our School. There are appropriate times for small group instruction, but there is plenty of time for exploration. Even when students are performing a task that requires them to sit, teachers will often call for a movement break and get students up and out of their seats. This acts as a reset for the brain and boosts academic performance. Our entire School participates in a movement break and recess every day. And movement is especially important in our younger grades where students get frequent cases of the “wiggles.” At some schools, this is seen as a problem. At Summit School, this is a part of how we learn.
In addition, and perhaps most important of all, is our democratic and civics-centered culture.
This is the heartbeat of Summit School and all else is built on its foundation. We are a school that promotes self direction, student voice, and shared governance.
Students come together regularly for School Meeting, a place to discuss and vote on issues and even some school rules. (Consider this: Do you think it’s harder to break a rule when you helped to create it?) The meeting is officiated by our student-elected student council members who follow Robert’s Rules of Order as a guide to effectively manage the conversation and time.
A suggestion box is available to all Summit School students and staff who want to have an issue discussed at school meeting.
When disagreements occur (and of course they will), students are held accountable, not just by adults, but by their peers. Our student Justice Committee acts as mediators in times of conflict and restorative practices are followed to right wrongs.
At Summit School, not only do students have an opinion, they have a voice and a platform from which to express it. This opportunity allows for growth in leadership skills, self-regulation and direction, mutual respect, collaboration, and compromise. Ultimately this better prepares students to be responsible, productive, and civically engaged adults.
What about teachers? Are they any good?
We have some amazing teachers at Summit School, and we are proud to have them on our team. We expect that all of our current teachers will continue with us as we begin our journey as Summit Charter School, some of whom are newer teachers, and some of whom are veteran teachers with more than two decades of teaching experience. And, with the growth of our school, we will recruit more teachers. All of our teachers are expected to meet the expectations of licensure and clearances under the law, as is the case with any other school.
At Summit School, teachers, like students, experience a very different learning environment. We believe that teachers (like students) should be life-long learners, too! Standing at the front of a classroom and regurgitating information students can easily search on google seems, well, think about that for a moment and you be the judge. We expect our teachers to be facilitators of learning, and they are provided with the autonomy needed to best serve each of their students. Additionally, our teachers foster a relationship of mutual respect with students and facilitate deomocratic and restorative practices in their classrooms. Being a teacher doesn’t automatically mean you know everything, but being a good Summit School teacher means you are a heck of a good guide and mentor to the learning of the students you silently (and sometimes verbally) cheer for every single day.
Our belief that education should be competency-based rather than time-based means that we support the ability of our students to work at their own pace. As individuals with various talents and challenges, some students will catch on to geometry faster than the person sitting nearest them, while that same student gliding easily through geometry may need some extra time comprehending the assignment in English language arts class. The important factor is to ensure that students fully understand the work before they move on, while also challenging the ones who catch on quickly in order to retain their attention. Knowledge is built on the building blocks of learning, and cracks on the sidewalk throughout our journey can leave us with the pavement crumbling beneath our feet. The competency-based component of our school culture requires more differentiated instruction from our teachers. This can be challenging but oh so worth it. The good news (in addition to the deep learning experiences students receive) is that our small class sizes make it easier for teachers to give students a lot of one-on-one or small group time and attention.
Most individuals who become teachers did so because they felt they were responding to a higher calling. Teaching is not just a job, it’s a vocation. Our teachers directly contribute to writing curriculum that fits the model of our school and the needs of their students. Make no mistake – they are accountable in every way, but they have the added ability to be directly involved with the process from start to finish.
We like to say that every student has their own personal Summit to climb, and we are here to help them reach the top!
When will Summit Charter School open?
If the Pocono Mountain School District approves our application, we plan to open in September 2020. Most charter school applications are still a dream on paper when they’re submitted. We are different. We have been operating as a private school, licensed through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, since 2016. We already have students, parents, teachers, staff, and board members who continue to support our mission and can speak for the school. We also have overwhelming support from local businesses and organizations, many of whom have submitted letters of support that have accompanied our application.
As a licensed private school, we are held to a higher standard with the PA Department of Education than a parochial school would be. As a public charter school, that accountability increases again, but we are ready for the challenge. Our already approved curriculum has been re-formatted to align with public school standards while maintaining the unique culture of our school. We understand the additional responsibilities we will undertake through this change, including special education requirements, additional staffing and reporting, etc.
We see no reason why the Pocono Mountain School District would deny our application unless it has a personal adversity to charter schools in general. We are not “that” charter school. We are established with a strong board and deep community roots. We are not doing this for money, and there is no personal gain. We’ve made it clear that we wish to work with our local school districts to expand and improve the education options available to students in Monroe County by working collaboratively on professional development opportunities, grant opportunities, and even education reform efforts. Charter schools were initially formed with the intent of incubating innovative ideas and adapting what works best across larger districts. Through collaborative efforts, ALL students have the potential to benefit from Summit Charter School.
Someone recently said that they find it absurd that we ask local school districts to approve or deny charter school applications. “They view charter schools as competition,” he said. “That would be like asking McDonalds to approve the new proposed Burger King down the street.”
We hope that Pocono Mountain District officials will accept our genuine desire to join efforts to benefit all. This should not be about us versus them. It should be about educating kids to the best of our ability and recognizing what that means, even if we don’t like the answer. These kids are, after all, our future.
All of that said, if the Pocono Mountain District does deny our application, we will appeal to the Pennsylvania Department of Education Charter Appeal Board, and we would expect a positive outcome of approval. In this scenario, we would expect to open in September 2021.
How do I enroll my child/ren in Summit Charter School?
You can start by by completing our pre-enrollment form (one per child). This does not guarantee your children a seat at the school, but indicates your interest in enrolling and is the very first step in the process.
Once the School’s charter is approved, parents will need to fill out an application for enrollment. If the School has more interest than available seats, we must, by law, hold a lottery to select students.
What can interested parents do now?
- Like and follow our Facebook pages:
- Visit our website for updates
- Complete our pre-enrollment form (one for each child)
- Write a letter to Summit School of the Poconos and the Pocono Mountain School District expressing your support for Summit Charter School. These can be mailed to Summit School of the Poconos, 135 Burson Street, East Stroudsburg, PA 18301 or emailed to email@example.com
- Encourage the elected Pocono Mountain School Board members to provide an approval for Summit Charter School.
- Attend our charter school hearing at the Pocono Mountain West High School Auditorium, 181 Panther Lane, Pocono Summit, PA, 18246 on Wednesday December 18th at 6pm. (Inclement weather date Friday December 20th at 3pm.)
Will my child/ren be able to take a bus to Summit Charter School?
In accordance with Pennsylvania law, transportation will be provided to students from their resident district to and from a private or charter school that is located within ten driving miles of the resident district boundary.
We expect that all four Monroe County districts will provide bus transportation to Summit Charter School.
Is there an attendance boundary?
Students residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are welcome to apply for attendance at the charter school.
Can students of the charter school participate in sports and extracurricular activities?
Yes! Some sports and activities may be offered through the charter school directly. In accordance with Pennsylvania charter school law, charter school students have the ability to participate in extracurricular activities of the school district of residence so long as the student is able to fulfill the requirements of participation and the charter school does not provide the same extracurricular activity.