News & Stories

Philadelphia Inquirer: School Reborn

by Allison Steele

Elementary students at Kipp Cooper Norcross Academy were excited to receive new backpacks on Sept. 1, 2015.

Hundreds of politicians, officials, and Camden residents on Wednesday celebrated the opening of the building that houses the city’s – and the state’s – first Renaissance charter school, a facility replacing a neighborhood public school that was demolished more than a decade ago.

The gleaming 110,000-square-foot KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy on South Broadway in Camden’s Lanning Square now hosts about 700 students in pre-K, elementary, and middle school, but in the coming years it will add a high school and serve 2,800 students.

KIPP launched in Camden in 2012 after teaming up with the charitable foundation of Cooper University Hospital and the Norcross Foundation Inc. The foundation was created by the family of U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross and his brother George E. Norcross III, a powerful Democratic leader in South Jersey and chairman of Cooper, which built a medical school next door to KIPP.

Camden Mayor Dana Redd praised George Norcross as “the greatest friend Camden has ever had.” She thanked Donald Norcross, a former state senator, for supporting the Urban Hope Act, the bill that gave school boards in several New Jersey cities the power to approve Renaissance schools.

Donald Norcross praised Gov. Christie for signing the law.

“The system wasn’t working for those children,” he said. “Gov. Christie showed courage in understanding what we were dealing with.”

The law paved the way for the charter-school powerhouses Mastery and UnCommon to operate in Camden as district-charter hybrid Renaissance schools. Unlike charters, Renaissance schools must guarantee seats to every child in the school’s catchment area, and must operate in new or renovated buildings. They are publicly funded but privately operated, and have contracts with the district mandating that they provide wraparound services such as special education.

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