In a move to expand and strengthen the partnership between Widener University and the Chester Upland School District (CUSD), Widener will transfer ownership of the Widener Partnership Charter School (WPCS) to CUSD this summer. The K – 8 school, which has operated as a charter for 16 years, will become part of the district and retain as many of its employees and Widener-supported programs as possible. The changes offer Widener the opportunity to explore expanding student support services – already in place at WPCS – into other district schools. In addition, the university will expand generous Widener scholarship opportunities to students and faculty district wide.
“We are thrilled to welcome the students into the Chester Upland School District,” said CUSD Superintendent Craig Parkinson. “We are excited that while the educational experience and programs will remain stable and positive, WPCS students will, for the first time, also be eligible to participate in CUSD activities and athletics. By becoming part of CUSD, the experience for these students will be enhanced.”
“We look forward to working collaboratively with Widener to ensure the student experience at WPCS continues to be outstanding and the school remains an area leader,” said Nafis Nichols, CUSD Receiver. “This school has been very successful and popular, and we want to ensure that continues.”
WPCS was initially launched as a charter for grades K-5. Today it is home to 400 students and 68 employees. Widener undergraduate and graduate students work in the school in a variety of capacities, from student teaching to providing supplemental support in social work, clinical psychology, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and special education.
“The decision to transfer ownership and management of the WPCS to Chester Upland allows Widener to continue contributing to the education of WPCS children in areas that are best aligned with our strengths, and to improve education more broadly in Chester,” said Widener President Julie E. Wollman. “By concentrating our focus on classroom-based and supplemental therapeutic services, the university can explore ways to make these kinds of dynamic contributions to enhancing student success at other schools in the district.”
In keeping with the university’s ongoing commitment to the community, Widener is expanding a scholarship opportunity to students and teachers across the district. Currently, students promoted out of WPCS after eighth grade who go on to meet Widener admission criteria during their high school years are eligible for minimum scholarships of $100,000 over four years, to pursue an undergraduate education full time at Widener. Under the new arrangement, this same financial opportunity will be offered to all high school graduates in the district who meet Widener’s admissions requirements, beginning this fall. CUSD teachers and administrators will also be offered scholarships to complete graduate work at Widener.
“We are firmly committed to expanding our community stewardship and partnership,” Wollman said.
“This is a good thing for the city and our students,” said James Turner, member of the WPCS Advisory Board who also actively promotes CUSD and helping to build innovative partnerships. “It was the vision of the charter school since its inception to improve education for all children in Chester. Through this partnership, Widener and CUSD now have an opportunity to take the level of excellence that has been developed at WPCS and share that across the district.”
The district will purchase WPCS for $9.1 million. While Widener has received higher offers from other interested buyers over time, university leadership recognized that partnering with CUSD would allow Widener to positively impact the greatest number of students in the Chester community. With strong, responsible leadership in place at CUSD, university leaders felt confident that now was the right time for a transition.
Under the plan, the district will issue a bond to cover the cost of acquiring the school. Currently, under PA charter regulations, CUSD pays Widener approximately $5.1 million each year in subsidies. Those payments will fall off the district’s rolls once the school becomes part of the district.
The university and the district will complete the transition over the summer to support a smooth start of classes this fall.
“I look forward to partnering with the district through this time of change, to ensure we continue providing the students an excellent education, and to maintaining the strong partnerships we’ve built with parents and guardians in our WPCS community,” said Kareem Goodwin, principal of WPCS.
WPCS will be renamed in the coming months. Beyond this, students at WPCS should see few changes in the coming school year, with school leadership and teaching staff remaining as stable as possible. Pennsylvania public schools are required to employ only fully certified teachers, while a charter may employ up to 25% of its teaching staff without full certification. CUSD will work with WPCS to ensure teachers and other staff at WPCS meet Pennsylvania Department of Education requirements. Under state law, WPCS teachers will also become members of the Chester Upland Education Association (teachers’ union) when CUSD assumes leadership of the school.
Information sessions for parents with CUSD administrators and WPCS leaders will be held on Thursday, June 2 at 7 p.m.