Seven area school districts will join 27 new districts statewide that have been approved to accept students from outside their districts in 2014-15 as part of the school choice program.
Locally, those districts approved by the Department of Education include Atlantic City, Vineland, Pinelands Regional, Pennsville, Middle Township, Upper Township, and Wildwood Crest, which will join the 110 districts already accepting choice students. Districts have until Oct. 11 to confirm they will participate in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. All those contacted said they are excited and already planning open houses to recruit.
The addition of three more districts in Cape May County means a majority of districts there will be choice districts, reflecting shrinking school enrollment in the county and the effort by districts to generate revenue through the extra state aid that comes with choice students. Currently Cape May, Lower Township, Lower Cape May Regional, Ocean City, West Cape May, and Woodbine already accept choice students.
Middle Township Superintendent Michael Kopakowski said they applied to help boost enrollment, but also to allow Woodbine students to attend Middle Township High School. Woodbine students had attended Millville High School for decades, but in August the Department of Education allowed Woodbine to switch to Middle Township, starting with this year’s freshmen class of 14 students, so all choice seats can go to other students.
Middle Township was approved for 29 seats in grades 6 through 12. Kopakowski said they are trying to maintain programs, and the extra state aid and students will help.
Wildwood Crest school Principal Ann Maria Guevara said they hope to sell parents on the small size and excellent programs and curriculum that includes 80 minutes a day of science-related lessons, a full-time art and music teacher, and free instrumental music lessons. The school was allotted 11 slots, but five will go to students already paying tuition to attend the school, leaving six openings, three each in grades five and six.
The district had applied for 43 choice slots, and Guevara said they hope to keep adding more seats each year in the pre-K-8 district of about 250 students.
“I have a lot of seats I could fill,” she said.
Most districts were approved for fewer seats than requested. Atlantic City got 25 of the requested 100 slots for the high school, and Vineland got 53 of 100 requested slots.
Atlantic City’s 25 seats will be offered to freshmen interested in joining the school’s Navy JROTC program or the Fine and Performing Arts Academy program. Students in the arts program will be asked to meet the same requirements as district students, including an audition or portfolio review.
“We will be adding AP classes in the arts and music, and we have the TV production and radio programs,” Superintendent Donna Haye said. The JROTC program has 100 students, and they would like to double that number.
“We want to create robust programs,” Haye said.
Vineland is approved to accept students in grades 6 through 12, but will focus on grades 7 through 9 for a special science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM-themed program. Students in the middle school grades would attend Veterans Memorial School on Main Road, which has new science labs. The program will also be opened to students within the district, and there will be academic requirements.
“This will be for students really serious about the subjects,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Nathan Frey said. Plans call for students to earn college credits for some courses.
Pinelands Regional Superintendent Robert Blake said they hope to attract students with their smaller environment and smaller class sizes. He said the district has excellent AP and drama programs, and is expanding electives next year. The district was approved to accept 20 ninth-graders and 10 10th-graders next year.
“We have a wonderful school environment and we’re excited about sharing it,” Blake said.
Upper Township school officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The choice program has grown rapidly since expansion was approved in 2010 allowing any district to apply. Currently almost 4,600 students attend one of the 110 choice schools. Next year an estimated 5,500 students will attend a choice school. State school choice aid for those districts jumped from $16 million in 2012-13 to $49 million this school year.
All of the districts plan to hold open houses to explain their programs in the next few weeks. Parents will have until Dec. 2 to apply. There is no charge for students to attend. If more students apply than there are seats available, the district must use a lottery system to choose who will attend. First preference must be given to students attending a public school, but districts can then open choice seats to private school students.
Contact Diane D’Amico: