Princeton Charter School functions as a stimulating and mind-challenging public school. The school's philosophy is that students can best meet life's challenges if they have a solid mastery of core academic skills and knowledge.
On September 17, 2004, United States Secretary of Education Rod Paige named Princeton Charter School a "No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School." The award recognizes the school as a national model of excellence, meeting the nation's goals of high standards and accountability. To be recognized, a school must demonstrate a strong commitment to both excellence and equity, and diminish the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their peers. New Jersey Commissioner of Education William Librera nominated Princeton Charter School for this award.
The most unbiased assessment of the school comes from other groups. The school has often achieved national recognition for its continued excellence in achievement, innovation, and accountability. On May 16, 2007, PCS was named a "National Charter School of the Year" by the Center for Education Reform. Previous awards include being named a "No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School" in September 2004 by the United States Department of Education, and a "Charter School of Distinction" in 2004 by the New Jersey Department of Education for PCS' outstanding record of performance as measured by high student achievement and school accomplishments, exemplary teaching practices, effective and efficient administrative leadership, and solid governance. PCS has been recognized numerous times as a Benchmark School for attaining high rates of student achievement on New Jersey's state assessment tests.
On April 20, 2002, Princeton Charter School became the first charter school in the nation to receive accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE). In awarding PCS accreditation, Jeffery Wallin, the President of the American Academy for Liberal Education congratulated PCS on its "manifest commitment to an academically demanding program" and stated that PCS has achieved "the highest standards we are aware of in the whole realm of K-12 education." The AALE further noted that the excellence of the PCS academic program will stand as a model in the accreditation of other charter schools.
The PCS Charter proudly declares its commitment to provide its students with a solid educational foundation on which to build a lifetime of learning. PCS offers a strong and integrated curriculum where children build upon the knowledge they acquire each year. For example, beginning in fifth grade, students learn history chronologically, starting with a study of the world prior to 500 B.C.E. The English language and literature program emphasizes reading comprehension and writing skills. Grammar lessons begin in the first grade, where students are taught to form proper sentences. Eighth-grade students master five-paragraph essays. Each child also has half an hour of sustained silent reading each day. By sixth grade, all children are reading plays by Shakespeare. Students learn poetry to grasp the rhythms of speech and words, and students in grades six to eight enrich their vocabularies by learning the Greek and Latin roots of words. Starting in kindergarten, students spend a full class period each day learning a world language such as French or Spanish. The mathematics program is designed to provide sufficient time for students to obtain a careful grounding in essential mathematics as well as to challenge able students with more difficult concepts. PCS is determined to stimulate the minds of all of its children.
Princeton Charter School establishes common public milestones to punctuate a student's progress and give students and the whole PCS community the opportunity to celebrate academic achievements. These milestones are significant learning objects that nearly all students can achieve, such as writing a descriptive and grammatically correct letter to a family member about a day in school (grade two), analyzing a literary passage (grade seven), and writing a formal science laboratory report (grade eight).
Princeton Charter School is mindful that the legislative purpose behind the New Jersey Charter School Program Act is "to encourage and facilitate the development of charter schools" (N.J.S.A. 18:A-36A-2). The Charter School Program Act recognizes that charter schools increase "educational choices" available to students and "offer the potential to improve pupil learning" by providing a "variety of educational approaches which may not be available in the traditional public school classroom" (N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-2). To facilitate the ability of other charter schools to improve their academic programs, PCS applied for and received a two-year federal dissemination grant administered by the New Jersey Department of Education. Under this grant, PCS organized workshops to share effective educational practices with other New Jersey educators in 2003 and 2004. Funds from a follow-on grant allowed educators from the school to work with Village Charter School in Mercer County, Jersey Shore Charter School in Monmouth County, and teachers from Trenton-area charter schools, sharing our curriculum and educational approach with these other New Jersey public schools. In fact, Princeton Charter School posts its complete academic program on the web at www.pcs.k12.nj.us for all educators and interested members of the public to see.
Princeton Charter School students and parents appreciate the popular after-school program. PCS hires graduates from Princeton University and other universities to provide homework assistance and tutoring to students. The school also offers a number of successful academically-focused after-school clubs. The MathCounts Club engages in fun mathematical games and challenges, and it fields a team that competes in state-wide competitions. PCS has both a Chess Club and a Chess Team that has consistently won trophies at both the state and national levels. The French Club allows children to converse in a foreign language in a fun and supportive environment. The after-school Chamber Symphony allows children to play their musical instruments and to perform in school. Children also enjoy participating in school-sponsored theatrical productions and talent shows.
In recognition of the innovation of its academic program, Princeton Charter School received front-page coverage in the New York Times. ( New York Times, April 28, 2001). PCS was also featured in three other New York Times articles and in USA Today. The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation published an article about Princeton Charter School entitled "Why Charter Schools? The Princeton Story," which tells how Princeton parents started a charter school in order to raise academic standards. This article can be found on the Foundation's web site at www.edexcellence.net/library/wcs/wcs.html.
When New Jersey State Commissioner of Education David Hespe renewed the school's charter on February 1, 2001, he cited the school's "strong academic progress, faithfulness to the terms of the original charter, and the school's thorough examination of its results to guide improvements." For the second charter renewal on December 30, 2005, Acting Commissioner Lucille E. Davy congratulated PCS for the "school's exemplary accomplishments" and announced her support for "the efforts you have underway to strengthen academic progress and student success."
Princeton Charter School's world language program in French was given a Best Practices award in June 2004.This award-winning program was developed by Martha Toma and Sova Fisher, the school's teachers of French language and literature.
The Princeton Charter School charter is its contract between the school, the parents and students, and the New Jersey State Department of Education. Like all charter public schools, the PCS charter clearly sets forth its educational mission and objectives and keeps the school focused and accountable for improving the education of its students. The charter is not a list of lofty and abstract principles. Instead, the PCS charter states the specific teaching methods and student outcomes for which the school holds itself accountable. The achievement of these results can be seen in the impressive academic progress of the students.
Every May, the PCS Board of Trustees mails a survey to parents that asks them to rate the school's programs and suggest improvements. Each fall, the parents are told of the major recommendations they made, and each spring, the PCS Board of Trustees reports on actions taken in response to those suggestions. This assists the school to continually improve the quality of the school program.
Princeton Charter School is not only accountable to the parents of the children who attend the school, but it is also accountable to the State of New Jersey. PCS is certified and periodically re-certified by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) on the basis of yearly reports on every phase of the school's operation and on DOE staff visits and examination of PCS records. All PCS teachers are state-certified. As mentioned earlier, in 2002 PCS received accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education. In granting this accreditation--the first charter school to be so recognized--the AALE describes the school as a national model for elementary education.
Now in its 15th year, Princeton Charter School has fully realized the promise of its charter to offer excellence and choice in public education. PCS has created a new public school campus without increasing the local tax burden. Through carefully managing its state-mandated budget, PCS proves that public schools can achieve academic excellence within a budget. In the current academic year, PCS students cost Princeton taxpayers approximately $7,500 per pupil. In contrast, Princeton Regional Schools spends over $11,300 from local taxes per pupil for its programs, a price tag that does not even include the funds for capital expenditures.
Princeton Charter School has enjoyed a high level of demand for places in the school. Historically, the school has had in excess of three applicants for each available student space. Each time the school was rechartered, the enrollment was increased to allow the school to meet the high level of demand. Now that enrollment has reached almost 350 students, the school has no further plans to expand.