Charter School of Entrepreneurship to Open in a Few Weeks

"Imagine Penn Hills, the areas newest charter school and alternative to traditional public school, is set to open later this month for students in kindergarten through second grade.
Ask for an educational alternative to public schools and you just might get it. That's what James Carmine did and the result is the newest charter school to the area—Imagine Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship. Imagine Penn Hills opens this fall for students in kindergarten through second grades. The school operates out of the former William Penn Elementary building on Penn School Drive. 'We were very fortunate that the Penn Hills School District welcomed our charter school,' said Kristen Priganc, Imagine Penn Hills principal. 'I am honored to be a part of the positive changes coming to Penn Hills.' Like all charter schools, Imagine Penn Hills is publicly funded but privately operated. This is one of the biggest draws for Carmine—an associate professor of philosophy at Carlow University and teacher in the Penn hills School district—and one of the driving reasons he wanted to bring Imagine to Penn Hills. 'The essential problem with public education in America is that schools of education, colleges of education, had become wed to trendy theories of education that did not actually translate into successful teachers,' said Carmine. 'If a charter school does not have demonstrable results, it goes out of business. I like that. Succeed teaching our children—my children—or you lose your job.' The Penn Hills School Board approved the five-year charter for Imagine Penn Hills back in April. Carmine spearheaded the charter proposal and chose Imagine specifically for its track record and drive. 'I actually looked at a few charter school management groups including Propel and Mosaica, but I did not think either had the desire or even the ability to take on the Penn Hills School Board since they had a reputation for being very antagonistic to charter schools and had kept every charter out,' he said. Carmine's oldest of three children will begin first grade at Imagine in the fall. Charter schools have a little more flexibility in their curriculum design than a traditional public school, while still adhering to state requirements and measurements. Imagine Penn Hills will focus on entrepreneurship by using a nationally-recognized 'microsociety' curriculum. 'Imagine is able to seek out models that support the interests of those in the community,' said Priganc. 'Our students will create a living environment complete with government, business ventures, social agencies, and a structured economy. I like to explain it as taking a 'big peoples world' and putting it on a 'little people' scale.' That flexibility in a charter school environment isn't possible in a traditional public school according to Priganc. 'In traditional districts, decisions are being made for multiple schools and a large number of children,' she said. 'At Imagine Penn Hills, we are deciding what's best for the students in our care. If a program doesn't work, we can try something different.' Carmine agreed. 'I am very, very happy that we have focused on entrepreneurship, since entrepreneurship fits much more closely with the tradition of American education from Jefferson to Dewey,' he said. 'Knowledge unrelated to application is neither real knowledge nor is it real education.' The new charter school also is an accesible option for families who can't afford private or more specialized education. 'In the current economic situation, many parents who would like to provide their child with a private education may not be able to,' said Priganc. 'Imagine Penn Hills is able to provide a tuition-free option for them.' This isn't Imagine's first school in the Pittsburgh area though. The Environmental Charter School at Frick Park opened in 2008. Priganc served as vice-principal at Frick before moving to Imagine Penn Hills. Imagine currently uses the microsociety model in two other schools located in Florida and Texas. For incoming kindergarten through second grade students, the microsociety will start with basic concepts like valuing money, saving versus spending and understanding risk taking. Of course the basics like writing, reading, speaking and math are a main part of the curriculum as well. Priganc also points out that leadership is a big component as well. 'Children understand more than we give them credit for. We have to be willing to push them to reach the highest levels and support them each step of the way,' she said. The microsociety approach doesn't stop at the classroom door either. Priganc really wants the families to feel a part of the Imagine community that provides support and values to their children. 'If the children see that we can all come together, they will know how important that sense of community is when they design their own microsociety,' she said. Priganc also believes that the success of the school is dependent on the parents truly believing that the staff cares about the success of their children. And Carmine is one that believes they care—because they have to. 'Schools of education have unintentionally developed a perverse relationship with teacher unions to raise teacher incomes while not really creating better teachers,' he said. 'Charter schools have no such luxury.' The goal for the start of the 2011 school year for Imagine Penn Hills is to have 252 students and the plans are to grow one grade per year until it reaches eighth grade. Right now, Priganc said the school is approximately 100 students short of their goal. While preference is given to residents of the Penn Hills School District, students from any community are welcome to apply. The staff is in place and includes four teachers at each grade level, as well as specialists and team teachers to support all grade levels. 'Word has been spreading,' said Priganc, noting that a lot of initial interest came from within the Penn Hills community but has been spreading to surrounding communities more and more." For more information on Imagine Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship, visit www.ImaginePennHills.com Article published on August 11, 2011 by the Plum-Oakmont Patch