The state Department of Education approved the two-part application submitted by KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy to build and operate what is on track to be the state's first privately run and publicly financed Renaissance school project.
In a brief letter dated Friday, March 15, Evo Popoff, assistant education commissioner, said that after review of application by the Cooper Lanning Square Renaissance School Inc. (doing business as KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy) and a supporting resolution from the Camden Board of Education, the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy at Lanning Square's Renaissance project was approved.
A contract between the Camden Board of Education and KIPP must be finalized and sent to the state Department of Education for approval by next Monday, March 25.
The contract is expected to be voted on at Tuesday's school board work session.
KIPP plans to open in fall 2014 with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. It will add a grade each year, with about 100 students in each grade. All students living within the catchment area would qualify for admission to the charter-like school.
The second phase of the plan is to build a second elementary and middle school and a high school to educate a total of 2,800 Camden students.
However, the catchment area could change for the various Camden KIPP schools since their "campus" has been defined as the entire city. The proposed contract between KIPP and the city also states that KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy "shall have discretion over where to construct the Phase Two elementary school, middle school, and high school within the Campus."
The issue over how a campus is defined and the lack of detail on where schools will go has drawn criticism from David Sciarra, executive director of the New Jersey Education Law Center, which represents students in failing school districts.
He has said that KIPP's land and construction plans should cover all five schools, not just the first two.
The Urban Hope Act, which authorized Renaissance schools, "does not permit for a group of schools, some of which you are not prepared to construct," Sciarra said in January. "It's a single project you are ready to build now."
The act, sponsored by State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and signed into law last year by Gov. Christie, gave local school board officials the power to approve up to four Renaissance projects each in Camden, Trenton, and Newark. Only Camden has made use of the statute, approving one of four proposals submitted.
The Norcross Foundation was created by the family of Norcross and his brother, George E. Norcross III, who is chairman of Cooper University Hospital, a Democratic leader, and a managing partner of the company that owns The Inquirer. George Norcross' daughter, Alessandra, a director of the parent company of The Inquirer, is an officer of the foundation and a board member of KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.
The Renaissance school team is working to acquire the site next to the new Cooper University Medical School of Rowan University, which had been reserved for a new Lanning Square Elementary School. The site is owned by the state School Development Authority and the Camden Board of Education.
School Development Authority spokeswoman Kristen MacLean said SDA still owns its portion of the land and had not yet begun negotiations with KIPP.
"SDA is waiting on action from the Department of Education as to the status of the KIPP application," MacLean said in an e-mail Monday. "If the DOE approves the application, we will likely engage in additional discussions with the KIPP team regarding any proposal they have."