Thackston board applies for charter high school in York City

Andrew Shaw
The York Dispatch

(Editor's note: This story was originally published Nov. 9, 2011)

Lincoln Elementary Charter and Helen Thackston Middle Charter School may soon get a big brother.

Thackston's board has applied to York City School Board for a high school, according to Thackston board president Oscar Rossum Sr.

The move has been in the works for some time, as Helen Thackston itself was created three years ago so Lincoln students could continue their education with the same organization.

Thackston covers fifth-ninth grade, while Lincoln covers elementary grades. The ninth grade at Thackston was added this year as a placeholder until a high school could be added, according to school officials.

Rossum said the addition of a high school shouldn't have a significant enrollment impact on William Penn Senior High School; charter school enrollment has greatly dwindled York City's enrollment.

Rossum believes Helen Thackston High School will mostly be filled with students who came from Thackston Middle.

"We'll maintain our own students," he said, adding he expects about 300 students in the high school. About 400 students are at the middle school.

The high school, like the middle school, will have a Homeland Security theme that focuses on careers in emergency services.

The location of the high school, if the charter is approved by the school board, should be very familiar to Thackston students. That's because Thackston officials are now planning to renovate the middle school's 625 E. Philadelphia St. building, scrapping an initial plan to build a new structure on Roosevelt Avenue that would have housed the middle school and eventually the high school.

Legal issues in securing the Roosevelt site, where a $10-plus million school would have been built on the old state police barracks, caused the change of heart, said Rossum.

The renovation at Philadelphia Street is in early planning stages and is expected to be completed by next fall, and should include many new features, such as a full-size gym.

The York City School Board must decide if the charter application proves the school would be unique and have adequate facilities and staff. State law does not allow a charter application to be denied because of cost or financial concerns by the district. Charter schools are operated independently but are funded with public dollars.

York City School Board president Samuel Beard, who often says charter school approvals just come down to whether it meets legal requirements, said he's not worried about York City losing even more students to charter schools if the high school is added. York City's improvement with its own schools, with improving test scores, a new superintendent and other changes, should help lure students.

"I think we'll draw students back," Beard said.

York City's charter schools include York Academy Regional, New Hope Academy, Crispus Attucks Youthbuild, Lincoln and Thackston Middle.