Two Newark charter schools to merge into one K-12, as two others get approval to expand

A school building has a blue sign on the top left corner that reads North Star in white lettering with a white star shape between the two words.
North Star Academy was one of two charter schools in Newark that received state approval this week to increase enrollment. (David Handschuh for Chalkbeat)

The New Jersey Department of Education approved the expansion of two Newark charter schools, allowing the schools to increase enrollment at their campuses by a combined 532 seats — and bucking the department’s recent trend to curb charter school growth in the city.

The department also approved the merger of Achieve Community Charter School and People’s Preparatory Charter School to create a new K-12 school — People’s Achieve Community Charter School — that will fully integrate this summer, ahead of next school year.

Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan sent decision letters Wednesday, the annual regulatory deadline, to charter schools statewide seeking renewals or amendments to their charter agreements, including requests to add more seats. 

In total, 11 out of 14 expansion requests were approved for charter schools across the state, including the two in Newark. Other charter school expansions were approved in Trenton, Paterson, Clifton, Jersey City, Asbury Park, East Brunswick, and New Brunswick. 

“The department weighs a broad range of data to make thoughtful decisions on each application — evaluating schools on their record of performance and ensuring overall accountability,” said Michael Yaple, the department’s spokesman, in a statement.

North Star Academy, one of the largest charter school networks in the city with six elementary, six middle, and two high schools, was approved for 492 additional seats, increasing enrollment from 7,300 to 7,792 by the 2025-26 school year, according to the state education department’s approval letter obtained by Chalkbeat.

The charter school, which has been in Newark since 1997, reported an enrollment waitlist last year of 633 Newark students and 133 non-resident students, the letter stated. Although the school hasn’t met its maximum approved enrollment, North Star says it plans to ramp up recruitment and retention efforts.

LINK Community Charter School, a smaller system in its ninth year of operation, was approved for an additional 40 seats, increasing its enrollment size from 410 to 450 by the 2025-26 school year, according to the approval letter the school received on Wednesday.

The approvals come after the state denied several requests for charter school expansions over the last few years – marking a shift in tone for charter schools in Newark, which have seen a slowdown of growth under Gov. Phil Murphy. Under his predecessor, former Gov. Chris Christie, there was a boom in Newark charter school expansions.

“Communities win when we increase public school options that have a track record of meeting students’ needs,” said Harry Lee, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association. “Public charter schools work and we are ecstatic that more children will be able to attend excellent schools that put them on the path to social-emotional and academic recovery.”

Achieve Community Charter School, a K-8 charter school in the South Ward, will merge with People’s Prep, a 9-12 charter school, starting in the 2023-24 school year.

“My heart is overjoyed by this approval, as this was the final piece of the puzzle to provide a holistic model for children and families in our community,” said Dominique Lee, founder and chief executive officer of the BRICK Education Network, which runs Achieve Community Charter School, in a press release.

“By partnering with another high-performing school like Achieve to start our college access and success work earlier, we now have the opportunity to produce even better outcomes with students, families, and alumni for generations to come,” said Keith Robinson, executive director for People’s Prep, in that release.

The state education department also said the consolidation of the two schools will benefit students by providing them with a continuity from kindergarten through 12th grade. 

“The two schools’ missions and educational programs are uniquely aligned to ensure a smooth transition into a single entity,” Allen-McMillan said in the approval letter.

Catherine Carrera is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Newark, covering the city’s K-12 schools with a focus on English language learners. Contact Catherine at ccarrera@chalkbeat.org.

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