Proposed Third Township Charter School Delays Opening For One Year

Needing more time to prepare for their final approval, the founders of a proposed charter school based in the township have received approval from the state to open a year later than planned.

The extra time is needed so the school’s founders can submit documentation due to the state Department of Education last November.

Ailanthus Charter School was supposed to open for the 2018-19 school year. But the school’s founders in November 2017 asked for permission to delay that opening until the 2019-20 school year.

Based in the township at the site of the Oak Crest Day Camp on Cortelyous Lane, the school planned to draw students from Franklin and New Brunswick.

The school received its charter and preliminary approval in September, 2016, but its opening was delayed for a year at that time to give founders time to plan for the school’s “preparedness review.”

The preparedness review “determines whether the approved charter school applicants have the academic, fiscal and organizational components in place to ensure high quality educational outcomes for all students,” according to the DOE web site.

Ailathus founders met with DOE officials on Sept. 27, 2017 for a meeting to check on the status of the planning year, according to a letter to Danielle Griffith, the lead founder, from the DOE’s Katherine Czehut.

Czehut’s letter delineated five areas for which documentation was needed by Nov. 3, 2017:

  • “Revised membership list of the Ailanthus Charter School Board of Trustees, which will demonstrate that Jonathon Gold is no longer a member of the Board;
  • Summary description of the educational program, which includes Project Based Learning, blended learning, and an entrepreneurial mindset program;
  • Entrepreneurial mindset program and project-based learning scope and sequence for one grade level;
  • Facilities renovation summary;
  • Evidence of family/community engagement and support, including but not limited to letters of interest from families and completed enrollment applications.”

Jonathon Gold, owner of Oak Crest Day Camp, was one of seven original applicants for the charter school. Also leaving the team since it received its charter was township resident Randall Pinkett, founder of BCT Partners and a winner on the former “Apprentice” television program.

Attached to the letter were program and fiscal preparedness checklists that the founders were supposed to complete.

On Nov. 1, 2017, Griffith, who is the assistant director at Oak Crest, wrote to Kimberly Harrington, then-DOE commissioner, and former Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno asking for the one-year delay.

“I am requesting an additional planning year to fulfill the requirements for final charter approval,” Griffith wrote. “We will utilize this additional planning year to revise our Board of Trustees, create a more detailed description of and scope and sequence of the educational program, develop a complete summary of facility renovations, and collect additional evidence of family and community support.”

Griffith received her answer on Jan. 9, 2018 from Harrington.

“Your request to defer the opening of the Ailanthus Charter School from September of 2018-19  school year to the September of 2019-20 is approved,” she wrote.”

“The additional planning time will give your organization ample time to fully develop educational, organizational and financial plans that will align with the standards established within the New Jersey Department of Education’s Performance Framework for charter schools,’ Harrington wrote. “This second planning year will also provide your team with additional time to submit the outstanding documentation detailed in the Sept. 28, 2017 correspondence from the Office of Charter and Renaissance Schools.”

Griffith has not responded to a request for comment.

The school’s focus, according to its application, would be college prep and entrepreneurship studies.

Plans call for the school to enroll 60 students each in Kindergarten and 1st Grade in its first year, 60 students each in Kindergarten through 2nd Grade in its second year, 60 students each in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade in its third year and 60 students each in Kindergarten through 4th grade in its fourth year, for a total of 300 students by the fourth year, according to the application.

The school has encountered stiff opposition from the Board of Education, which appealed its original approval, and a citizen’s group called Franklin C.A.R.E.S., an acronym for Community Advocates Revitalizing our Education System.

Should it open, Ailanthus would be the third charter school in Somerset County, all of which are located in the township. The other two are the Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School on Pierce Street and Central Jersey College Prep Charter School on Mettlers Road.

Ailanthus plans to occupy the space at Oak Crest formerly occupied by TEECS prior to its move to the Pierce Street location.


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