New charter school to open in Dauphin Co. despite Harrisburg School District opposition

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A new charter school is coming to Harrisburg, despite years of opposition from the Harrisburg School District.

The Pa. STEAM Academy plans to welcome 120 new students to the old HACC building on Third and Reily Streets in September 2021.

Carolyn Dumaresq, a chair on the new academy’s school board, explains they’ve been planning the charter school since 2018.

“We were ready to go we just needed permission to open the doors,” Dumaresq said.

When they initially applied for a charter with the Harrisburg School District, the district said no. Since then they’ve dealt with multiple court challenges.

But, on Tuesday, the State Charter School Appeal Board made a different call.

“With a five-to-zero vote, [the appeal board] approved our charter and taking away the district’s roadblock to not being able to start the school,” Dumaresq said.

Now the school is gearing up for fall opening where they plan to start with two 20-student classrooms each in kindergarten, first, and second grades. Every year the next grade will be built on until eventually, they have four classes in each grade K-8.

The curriculum will include science, technology, engineering, and math starting in kindergarten. They also plan to have lessons from local artists and let kids see real exhibits and performances.

“It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for students in the Harrisburg area who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math, but with a real good dose of the arts,” Dumaresq said. “Our real interest is in making a difference in the city for children who want something different.”

The Harrisburg School District is against the charter school and released a statement attributed to their legal counsel Allison S. Petersen.

“The School District respectfully disagrees with the position taken by the State Charter School Appeal Board reflected in today’s vote and believes CAB has erred in the outcome. The application for the Pennsylvania STEAM Academy Charter School and the associated record under review by the Appeal Board contains numerous deficiencies and grounds for denial of the application, including a failure to provide teaching staff for serving students with disabilities and English Learners,” Petersen said. “The School District is currently evaluating its next steps as a result of the outcome and cannot comment further at this time.”

The academy says they do have a plan to provide special education and will contract with the Capital Area Intermediate Unit once they know who their students are and what their needs will be.

Funding is also a concern, since the school will be financed with the same pool of tax dollars that goes to the district.

“There are resources that will be shared with the district. And that goes with parents who’ve made a different choice who are taxpayers in the district,” Dumaresq said.

Now Pa. STEAM Academy is preparing for Fall, excited to bring Harrisburg students something new.

“It will be a sprint to September, but we’ve kind of been doing a long walk since November of 2018,” Dumaresq said.

Applications are open to Harrisburg kids first. You can find that application here.

If more than they can accept apply, the students will be selected in a lottery system. If they don’t get enough applicants to fill the seats they will open it up to surrounding areas.

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