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Board member fears for reputation of 'career magnet school'

September 20, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The future use of Chambersburg Area School District's planned academic center was hotly debated Monday during a meeting of the Franklin County (Pa.) Career and Technology Center's authority.

The authority formed the career center in the 1960s and today oversees its buildings and grounds. The major issue now before the group is whether it will transfer 11.6 acres to Chambersburg Area School District for the district to build an academic center on the campus.

Rumored uses for the academic center, which has been renamed the "career magnet school," have rankled some career center officials. Particularly vocal on the matter is Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School Board member Leland Lemley, who said the reputation of the career center could be affected by Chambersburg using the magnet school for alternative-education students.

The "congregation of a certain element" could change perceptions of the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, Lemley said at Monday's meeting.

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"I'm concerned about the public's image of the school in the future," he said.

The career center off Loop Road at one time was "viewed as a dumping ground" for students causing problems in participating high schools, Lemley said. That has changed significantly due to quality programs and high expectations of students, he said.

The teenagers Chambersburg plans to send to the career center are the same type as planned three years ago, Chambersburg Superintendent Joseph Padasak said.

It will not serve students who were expelled for weapons or other dangerous acts, Padasak said.

Instead, Chambersburg officials said the magnet school's 21 classrooms and two labs will be designed for two groups of students -- special-education students who will benefit from learning basic occupational skills, and students who either don't like or have trouble functioning in the large high school.

Some students say the high school is simply too big with "too much drama going on," Padasak said. Those students are enrolled in Manito alternative-education programs at the former Mary B. Sharpe school, he said.

"The students we have at Sharpe, these are very good children that lack motivation, but don't have a criminal background," Padasak said.

They are smart children who could help the career center's reputation by becoming good employees in the community, he said.

Mark Scheitle, Chambersburg's special education supervisor, said the Sharpe-type students have "school phobias" and could be more comfortable in the smaller magnet school.

It would give them "some exposure to career and technology education," and maybe someday they'd like to become full vocational students, he said.

Lemley said he wants to see the composition of the career center/magnet school population mirror that of a Franklin County high school.

If the magnet school opened, Chambersburg would have 600 to 800 students on the career center campus. They would be divided between the magnet school and career shops.

The authority plans to meet in late October to further consider the land transfer, which would cost Chambersburg an estimated $130,900. Construction and related costs for the magnet school have been estimated at $9 million.

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