For the second time over the past couple of years, the school board in Radnor will soon vote on whether a charter school can operate on the grounds of the Valley Forge Military Academy.
This past week, representatives from the proposed Pennsylvania Military Charter School at Valley Forge attended a second meeting with the Radnor school board.
Amy Goldman, board president, said they would vote on the application during one of their upcoming meetings. A vote on the plan was not listed as part of the agenda for this week’s board business meeting.
“I would like to remind everyone that this hearing is not an adversarial proceeding but rather an opportunity for the board, its administration, and solicitor to learn more through inquiry about the application submitted to them by the Pennsylvania Military Charter School at Valley Forge. The board is entering the hearing tonight with an open mind toward gathering information, and no decisions have been made or will be made on the application tonight,” Goldman said.
In 2021, Radnor’s school board rejected a plan for a charter school that would have been run by Valley Forge Military Academy. After that rejection, a new proposal was put forward for a charter school that would lease space from Valley Forge but have little or no other connections with it.
The first meeting between the proposed school and the school board, held in December, gave officials from the proposed charter school the opportunity to outline their plans and vision.
At that December meeting, Joshua Johnson, a member of the proposed school’s board of directors, said their program would be separate from the existing Valley Forge Military Academy.
“The easiest way to say this is that Valley Forge Military Academy is going to be our landlord,” Johnson told the board in December. “We are renting facilities on their campus and providing a very unique charter school that will be separate from Valley Forge Military Academy.”
According to Johnson, there will be similarities since both schools have a military background and share some of the same facilities, such as the playing and sports fields.
“But think of it as two completely separate entities occupying the same ground,” Johnson said.
This second meeting allowed school officials the chance to ask follow-up questions about the school, and it gave the public the chance to speak in support or against the proposed school.
Harold Wilson, a graduate of Valley Forge and a resident of Rosemont, was one of those who spoke up in support of the application.
“I do believe there’s a place for military education in our society,” Wilson said. “The values and principles that are taught in such an institution are not only the math and sciences that we so often hear about today. There are also those of duty, honor, responsibility, loyalty, and teamwork — traits which are not so discussed today but are just as important as SAT scores. They are the essence of leadership that our country and communities need to face the future, and as all its uncertainty, Valley Forge has always been at the center of such an education. Numerous presidents, governors, senators, and generals have visited there to participate and celebrate its unique form of education.”
Other members of the public spoke out against approving the school.
Among the criticism was the potential cost to the Radnor School District and the proposed charter school’s stated policy on students using the sex listed on their birth certificate.
Gillian Norris-Szanto said she has several concerns about the proposed school. Among her concerns was that since the school expects many students to come from other school districts, another location might be better.
“I do not consider school district authorization or financial support for the proposed charter school a justifiable use of Radnor School District resources,” she said.
Norris-Szanto said they also failed to show support from teachers, students, and parents for a need of a charter school as they are required to as part of their application.
As part of the hearing, the district played recorded phone messages they received from the public on the proposed application.
A few people said the school’s plans to use the sex listed on a birth certificate would violate nondiscrimination policies.
“I would encourage the board not to approve a school that’s going to be funded with public dollars when that school will not be recognizing students’ gender identities the same way in the same manner that they would be recognized if those students went to any of the six schools, excuse me, five schools within Radnor Township School District,” one caller on a recorded message said.
Among the concerns raised by another resident, Kevin Dow, was the burden on Radnor district officials.
“I’m concerned for the administrative burden that will be placed on the (Radnor) district staff and the administrative staff in maintaining and operating and ensuring that the charter school is managing and performing as expected,” he said.
When asked by school officials about military schools shutting down across the country due to finances and what evidence they have to support their expectation that nearly 1,000 students will attend the schools, Michael Way from the proposed school’s charter management company, Charter One, said, “It’s a different model. Parents aren’t paying private funds anymore. It’s a public model.”
Way later said they are looking forwarded to the opportunity to work with the proposed school.
“We’re excited about this opportunity, honestly, to be able to do this very innovative venture with this board. We’re thrilled to even be considered as part of this opportunity,” Way said.
So, when will the board vote on the application?
“In accordance with the charter school law and board policy 140, the board will vote at an upcoming public meeting within the time limit set forth in the charter school law and board policy 140 on whether to approve the charter school application and adopt the recommendation of the district administration,” Goldman said just before adjourning the meeting.
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