August 15, 2016
TRENTON — Most kids are still enjoying their last weeks of summer break, but about 1,000 students donned their backpacks and streamed into Foundation Academies Monday morning for the first day of school.
The new year comes with two big milestones for the charter school - its 10th anniversary and the purchase of its own building.
The school started in 2007 with 80 fifth- and sixth-graders. Ten years later, it has more than 1,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12 and a waiting list that nearly exceeds its enrollment.
For the third year in a row, 100 percent of its graduating seniors have been accepted into four-year colleges and universities. The very first students are now juniors in college.
CEO Graig Weiss says the growth was slow, steady and intentional and credits the school's success to the "incredibly dedicated" staff.
"When charter schools try to grow too fast, that could become problematic," he said. "You need the people to grow with the organization. We have people in leadership positions who five years ago came in as novice teachers. It always comes back to our staff."
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The school opened in the former Sacred Heart School on South Broad Street, but moved its K-8 into 363 West State Street three years ago, Weiss said.
It had long been a goal of the school's to buy its own building — and that dream finally came to fruition this summer.
Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have to pay for their own facilities.
"Oftentimes, it's difficult for charter schools to have long-term homes," Weiss said. "It's always a risk when you're leasing a building because the owner can turn around and say, 'This is your last year' and you're left scrambling.
"Knowing that we're going to be here, knowing that we can put money into upgrades is a big weight off our shoulders," he said.
Weiss said the school will continue chipping away at some capital improvement projects.
"Little by little, we're trying to make it nicer for our kids," he said. "It's a school facility that you'll find in an affluent area and our kids deserve that."
Weiss said that between 98 and 99 percent of the students are from Trenton.
"That's something that we're consciously doing," he said. "We're not interested in going to the suburbs. We're focused on revitalizing the community through education."