TLC Leadership Charter School

TLC Leadership Charter School would resemble TLC Leadership Academy, a private school serving at-risk youth in Montgomery County. 

Officials with the School District of Lancaster are urging the Conestoga Valley school board to deny an application from a charter school that says 75% of its students will come from Lancaster city.

“It appears that the TLC Leadership Charter School has deliberately bypassed our school district to seek approval from you instead,” Lancaster board President Edith Gallagher said during a public meeting at Huesken Middle School Thursday night.

Gallagher, speaking during the public comment period toward the end of the meeting, said this “disqualifies” the charter school for approval.

If approved, TLC Leadership Charter School — an arm of The Lincoln Center, a Montgomery County-based nonprofit that offers education, coaching and counseling services in southeast Pennsylvania — would serve up to 200 students in kindergarten through 12th grade with an emphasis on students who suffer from anxiety, school phobia or other mental health issues.

The school applied to Conestoga Valley, yet its application states only 25% of its students would be from CV. The CV school board peppered the charter school’s leadership with questions about this and other topics during a two-hour meeting Thursday.

District solicitor Jeff Litts, of Kegel Kelin Almy & Lord, and TLC’s attorney, Brian Leinhauser, of the MacMain Law Group, did most of the talking. Litts asked about curriculum, ethics, finances and more.

Many of the concerns the board had related to the seemingly small amount of support the charter school had in the community. While the charter school submitted a document listing 65 parents who supported the school, only two lived in CV, Litts said. Of the 14 organizations that expressed support, Litts added, eight had existing connections to the school’s founding members.

The charter school also hosted a handful of town halls in March. None of them were held in CV. Three were held in Lancaster, and one was held in Lampeter-Strasburg.

Asked why the charter school didn’t apply to the School District of Lancaster, Leinhauser said the decision came down to location and suitable space.

The lack of support, Leinhauser added, could be because some individuals have been “discouraged” from advocating for the school. Leinhauser couldn’t back that statement up, however, because, he said, those individuals wouldn’t speak publicly out of fear of retribution.

About the slim percentage of students coming from CV, Leinhauser said it’s possible it could be more — or even less.

“We can’t know that until we actually start enrolling students,” he said.

Leinhauser said what sets the school apart is its emphasis on trauma-informed teaching and individualized learning. The school would provide daily counseling sessions for students and offer a co-teaching model with two teachers — one for regular education, the other for special education — in most classrooms.

Rosie Mann, a mother of three from Lancaster, asked the board to approve the charter school, in part because one of her sons has struggled in traditional public schools.

“This school provides something different,” she said.

The conversation surrounding the charter school’s approval will continue on Monday at 7 p.m. at the CV district office, 2110 Horseshoe Road. The board is expected to vote the week after.

In a statement, CV Superintendent Dave Zuilkoski said he appreciated the charter school officials taking questions, and that Thursday’s conversation “will add to the discussion on Monday.”