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The Chester Fund Plans a Charter School

The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts—a private foundation conceived of and funded by members of the Swarthmore community, including John Alston, associate professor of music and director of the Chester Children’s Chorus—has announced plans to open a charter school in Chester, Pa.

The charter school will build upon and expand the successful arts-centered program currently offered at the Chester Upland School of the Arts (CUSA), a public elementary school, founded in 2008 through the fund’s partnership with the Chester Upland School District. This year, 281 children in pre-K through 5th grade are enrolled at CUSA. Financial support from foundations, corporations, and individuals enables The Chester Fund to provide arts enrichment programs, technology programming, teaching assistants in every grade, and an after-school program for the upper grades at CUSA.

CUSA has achieved an Adequate Yearly Progress rating on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests for the past two years. Last year, fourth-graders made 20 percent gains in reading and 15 percent gains in math proficiency—a marked improvement on their performance as third-graders.

However, massive state government cutbacks in school-district funding in 2011 have led to reductions in both staffing and educational programs. As a result, administrators of The Chester Fund have decided to terminate the partnership with the school district at the end of June 2012 and apply to open a new charter school in order to protect its teachers and programs.

In a press release, Alston said: “We deeply appreciate the partnership we’ve had with the Chester-Upland School District over the last three years, but we also recognize that to continue educating Chester children, we have to be able to design our own programs and hire and keep the best teachers. And the only way to do this is to apply for a charter.”

Pending approval of the application, the new school, which will be called the Chester Charter School for the Arts, will open in September 2012.

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