Brian McGuire said he is hopeful the Department of Education’s charter school review will be positive for both his institution and schools statewide.

“I hope what comes out of it is that all those decision-makers can get a clear picture that charter schools work in New Jersey,” said McGuire, principal of Chartertech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point, Atlantic County’s only charter high school. “We have our problems just like any other school does, but we also have a lot of success.”

Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet visited McGuire’s school Thursday as part of a statewide listening tour that began this month to “gather public feedback on New Jersey’s approach to charter schools.”

The tour follows up on Gov. Phil Murphy’s promise in March to review the law that governs the publicly funded schools, which went into effect in 1997.

Murphy, who has not been a supporter of charter schools in the way former Gov. Chris Christie had, campaigned on a “timeout” to review the way the schools are approved and operated in the state.

Although some charter school advocates are optimistic about the review, others have concerns.

“We hope the charter review isn’t a forum for anti-charter school special interests to attack and undermine the choices our families have made,” said Harry Lee, interim president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, after the review was announced, adding that review must include a look at how charter schools are funded.

Lee added this week, “We want to make sure that charter students and families are at the forefront of this because this impacts them the most.”

Charter schools are operated independently of the district in which they are located and are free for students to attend. Students are drawn from the local district or region, and the charters for the schools are approved and reviewed by the state Department of Education.

Of the 89 charter schools in the state, South Jersey is home to few compared to North Jersey, with four in Cumberland County, three in Atlantic County, one in Ocean County and none in Cape May County.

Lee said this year the DOE denied all 13 applicants for new charter schools in the state.

McGuire said charter schools give parents real school choice.

“I hope that they get that when it’s done right, it really works,” he said of the department’s charter school tour.

The outreach includes community focus groups, stakeholder collaboratives, webinars and collections of written feedback. The department said it will publish a report after the outreach concludes.

“Charter schools are a valuable part of the existing educational landscape of New Jersey, and it is critical that we engage with the public to hear possible concerns and collect important data,” Repollet said when he announced the tour.

Former teacher Ricardo Belgrave, whose charter school application was denied last year by the Christie administration, said despite Murphy’s stance, he is planning on reapplying in 2019.

Belgrave is proposing an all-boys school in Atlantic City. Called the Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys, the school would serve 150 to 180 children in kindergarten through second grade. He said he has taken on new administrative team members as they prepare for the new round of applications in March.

“We’re keeping our fingers and our toes crossed,” Belgrave said. “I think the commissioner going in and doing visits will help with the cause of charter schools.”

If approved, Belgrave’s all-boys school would become the fourth charter school in Atlantic County.

Belgrave said that through the tour, Repollet and his staff will be able to “see the faces of the children who are being impacted in a positive way by the charter school movement.”

Likewise, Chartertech is the only high school of its kind in Atlantic County. The school, which opened in 1999, serves only students in grades 9-12 and operates as a career and technical education school with a focus on the arts.

McGuire said the visit will serve as a way to showcase the school.

“We’re no longer an experiment, we’re the real deal,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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