Delaware County Daily Times: Chester Charter School for Arts opens on former CHA site

Chester Charter School for Arts shows off new home
By Loretta Rodgers, Delaware County Daily Times
August 25, 2017
Original Article

Hundreds of excited Chester Charter School for the Arts (CCSA) students and their families attended an open house Thursday afternoon for the new 90,000-square-foot school facility located at 1500 Highland Avenue.

The non-profit K-12 public charter school will hold a private ribbon cutting ceremony Friday to mark the opening of their new $25 million campus. Two hundred guests including donors, local business owners, and educational leaders are expected to attend.

“We live within three blocks of here and watched the school being built from start to finish,” said Jessica Young-Francis. “It’s a beautiful school.”

Young-Francis has two children attending CCSA. Her son Mikal is entering eighth grade, and daughter Jaelynn will be in the second grade.

“I sing in the school choir and like this school very much,” Mikal said. “It’s really an extraordinary place.”

The vision of Swarthmore College music professor Dr. John Alston and The Chester Fund, CCSA is a nonprofit, non-selective public charter school teaching through an arts-integrated curriculum. The only K-12 school in Chester, CCSA’s vision is for 100 percent of its students to graduate and be prepared for college, conservatory, technical school, the military or gainful employment.

The school was founded in 2012 with 325 students in grades K-6. CCSA has grown with its students by adding a grade each year. For five years, the school operated from a rented industrial building in Aston Township, but outgrew the space in 2016. The new school building will serve 600 students in grades K-11 when it opens its doors this September, and 650 students in grades K-12 during the 2018-2019 school year.

“Over the past five years, we have developed an exceptional educational program,” said Donald Delson, president of the CCSA Board of Trustees. “It was time for us to provide the school with a campus equal to the program. It was also important for us to move to Chester, to become a visible and more active part of the community in which our students live.”

The red structure is visible from I-95 and is part of a resurgence of the West End of Chester. During the past year a Dollar General Store opened and Murphy Ford extended its operation to the corner adjacent to the school.

In addition, traffic improvements, landscaping, street lighting, and new signage to the Highland Gardens area were also completed.

CCSA officials said they plan to make parts of the school facility, including the gymnasium and playing fields, available for public use on an arranged basis.

The 11-acre campus site was purchased in spring 2016 from the Chester Housing Authority (CHA) and was once part of the McCafferty Village housing development, which was demolished in 1998. Since the late 1990’s, CHA has successfully developed new homes in the area, however, the CCSA site remained vacant for more than a decade before the school broke ground in June of last year.

“We could not be more thrilled than we are with having CCSA come to Highland Avenue,” said Chester Housing Authority Executive Director Steven Fischer. “This high-performing school will give many CHA families nearby an opportunity for a first-rate education. The school will undoubtedly make an enormous impact on the neighborhood.”

Akosua Watts, CCSA Head of School and CEO, was on hand Thursday to welcome students and their parents.

“Our new campus has been constructed to fit our needs, including a gymnasium, playing fields, state-of-the-art science labs, and dedicated spaces for each of our signature arts programs – dance, drama, music, and visual art,” Watts said. “I enjoy coming to work every day because at CCSA, we put the needs of the children first. Every decision made is what we feel is best for our students. I honestly would not want to be anywhere else.”

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