Gulen's American Empire

Gulen's American Empire
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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Gulen Movement leases former Catholic School to convert into new expanded Young Scholars of McKeesport

2nd charter school approved for McKeesport

Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
The Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh has worked out a multi-year lease of the old St. Nicholas school building in downtown McKeesport to Young Scholars of McKeesport Charter School.

Saturday, July 18, 2015, 1:16 a.m.

Despite the best efforts of McKeesport Area School District, a second charter school was approved to open in the city this fall.
Young Scholars of McKeesport Charter School chief operation officer Kamil Toprak said Commonwealth Court has affirmed the Charter School Appeal Board decision in favor of Young Scholars.
“This means there is no impediment to us opening in the fall,” Toprak said. “We are projecting to enroll 140 students for 2015-16.”
The district did not say whether an appeal would be made to the state Supreme Court.
“We are aware of the various stages of this process and we continue to monitor it,” district spokeswoman Kristen Davis said. “While this unfolds, we remain concerned about where this school is intending to open its doors.”
Toprak said Young Scholars will utilize the former St. Nicholas school building at 413 Shaw Ave.
“We are starting the paint, new flooring and so forth in the building soon to be completed,” Toprak said.
Young Scholarsis scheduled to open Sept. 8 with 12 teachers, as well as aides and an administrator.
“Teachers are already hired,” Toprak said. “Teacher in-service training will start four weeks prior to (the) school opening.”
He said full enrollment is expected by midweek, a month and a half ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline.
“Our classroom size is capped at 20 students,” Toprak said. “We will enroll 40 students in our full-day kindergarten classes, 40 students in first grade, 20 students in second grade, 20 (in) third grade and 20 (in) fourth grade.”
Young Scholars plans to add another grade every other year until McKeesport has a K-8 school. Registration included applications online at the website. Young Scholars charter schools operate in Baldwin and State College. In McKeesport, Toprak's operation is leasing the St. Nicholas school building, belonging to the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy or archdiocese of Pittsburgh.
“It is simply a straightforward lease that has a defined term (of) several years with an option to renew,” said Canonsburg attorney Cathy A. Chromulak, a member of the archdiocesan finance council.
She said negotiations regarding the lease began in earnest in the spring.
“I looked to their track record,” Chromulak said. “This is a group that seems to have had success in the Baldwin area (and) to my mind, that was a hopeful indicator.”
Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini issued his ruling for Young Scholars on Monday, while rejecting the school district's request for a stay.
Pellegrini considered the case on June 26 along with Judge P. Kevin Brobson and Senior Judge James G. Colins.
“It will always be our first priority to educate our students within the communities in which they reside and further the strong ties that our district has with all of the stakeholders involved in educating our children,” Davis said. “We believe that McKeesport Area School District is the best choice when it comes to educating our youth and providing them the best future.”
Tuesday's visit by Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera was a chance for the district to express concerns — and tout success — in dealing with charter schools.
Superintendent Rula Skezas told the secretary that Brie Adams, district coordinator of student services, grants and outside funding, persuaded 91 cyber and charter school students to transfer back into McKeesport Area's public system.
“She works on building relationships,” Skezas said. “We have an easy product to sell.”
“She acts on every lead,” school board member Terri Kisan said. “We get them to open the door.”
At that meeting the district made clear that it made its peace with another charter school, Propel McKeesport.
“We were very opposed,” Skezas recalled. “Although I'd rather have those kids come here, we have a much more positive dialogue with them.”
On Aug. 22, 2005, Propel McKeesport held its first classes in the St. Nicholas building.
“They were a good tenant,” Chromulak said. “We were happy to have them.”
On Oct. 29, 2007, Propel cut the ribbon after moving into the former St. Mary's school along Versailles Avenue.
Propel's spokeswoman had no comment regarding Young Scholars, focusing instead on Propel's own offerings.
“Propel Schools provides outstanding academic and enrichment programs for our students,” Maura DeRiggi said. “We feel that families should have the opportunity to choose a high-performing, proven environment for their students, in their neighborhoods.”
McKeesport Mayor and former McKeesport Area School District teacher Michael Cherepko said he is distraught to see a second charter school in the district.
Cherepko said Propel displays good citizenship in McKeesport, but he doesn't think the city's school district deserves the burden of a second charter school.
“Both of my children are enrolled in McKeesport Area schools, and they are getting an education that is second to none,” the mayor said. “When it comes to private schools, I understand that there are people who believe in school choice. I, however, believe that parents who choose to put their children in an alternative school setting should do this at their own expense, not the expense of district taxpayers.”
As charter schools, Propel and Young Scholars are considered public schools and by state mandate get funding from the public districts.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161412-664-9161, ext. 1967,or

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