With a snip of the ribbon, Princeton Charter School officials unveiled new classroom additions and an expanded cafeteria at the school, which is located in a former office building at 100 Bunn Dr.
The attendees clapped as Princeton Charter School co-founder Peter Yianilos, Head of School Lawrence Patton, and Stefano Damiamakis, president of the school’s Board of Trustees, took scissors to ribbon at the April 7 ceremony.
The three new buildings house fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms and the cafeteria expansion. Construction on the buildings began in November 2020.
Although the Princeton Charter School is a public school, the $5.6 million project was privately funded – not through money from a recent Princeton Public Schools bond referendum.
The Princeton Public Schools’ annual operating budget earmarks money for the Princeton Charter School. The proposed 2022-23 budget sets aside $1 million for the charter school.
Patton said the expansion accommodates 76 more students. This brings the enrollment to 424 students in the grades K-8 school. It also allows two sections of fourth-grade students to move out of temporary trailer and into the main building.
Damianakis acknowledged the “long journey” to reach this point. It would not have been possible without the parents, Princeton Charter School alumni and supporters, he said. It is reflective of the school’s culture of giving.
But a beautiful building does not make a school, Damianakis said. The teachers, the staff, the students and the parents are the “magic combination” that makes the Princeton Charter School special, he said.
“The building is the icing on the cake,” Damianakis said.
Peter Yianilos, a co-founder of the Princeton Charter School, said it is “hard to believe” that 25 years had passed since it was founded in 1997. It was formed following the Charter School Program Act of 1995, when a group of parents explored the possibility of opening a charter school in Princeton.
“I remember thinking, ‘If you walk down the street and ask a family for their view on education, you would find disagreement,'” Yianilos said.
“The Princeton Charter School view is that in early education, it has to be careful, rigorous and layered. Some neighbors and I wanted that, and others did not,” he said.
Parents had a difference of opinion, but having a choice of schools – the Princeton Public Schools and the Princeton Charter School – enriches the town in the long run, Yianilos said.
Pointing to the building, Yianilos said it was the former home of the Gallup & Robinson marketing research company. When the school’s founders were looking for a home for the charter school, they approached a local Realtor and asked about the building.
“We had no money, no staff and the charter was approved in January 1997 and we had to be open in a building by the fall. The Realtor would not show the building to us. I parked (at the building) and I found the owner and he showed it to us,” Yianilos said.
The school’s backers and the property owner reached an agreement and a deal was made. Many families that were interested in opening the Princeton Charter School guaranteed financing for the purchase, he said.
Yianilos said the decision was made to open a grades K-8 school. The school opened with a few grades and gradually added more so that it encompasses students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“There is a purity of mission (in a grades K-8 school). You lay the foundation. By high school, the students take the reins of education. It’s a different mission. If you do the job right, you will graduate competent 8th-graders,” he said.
In math, Yiailos said there is the concept of “necessary and sufficient.” For the country and society to prosper, it is necessary to educate, he said. That is the goal of the Princeton Charter School.
“If you don’t educate, you fail. If do you educate, you will succeed and society will prosper. It is ‘necessary’ to educate and ‘sufficient’ to carry on society – to ensure the long-term success of society,” Yianilos said.