A pretty path

The easiest way to be in the know.

It’s Friday, June 9:  A new charter school proposes to bring a “classical” education to Chester County. What exactly does that mean, and is the pushback from parents warranted? WCASD will hold a public hearing on the application next week. Plus, the Gay Street closure is getting a much-needed refresh, and Wrong Crowd shares the secrets to its skyrocketing success. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up!

Controversial New Charter School Proposing Some (Really) Old School Curriculum  

Image: Valley Forge Classical Academy Facebook page

On May 1, Valley Forge Classical Academy officially submitted its charter school application to the West Chester Area School District. The 500-page document plus program curriculum guide outlines the leadership’s plans and philosophy for its new Exton-based school.   

The application has since caught the attention of the community for its educational approach, connection to extremist groups, and the damage it could do to an already taxed public school system. There is a lot to unpack here, and I will try to do it as concisely as possible, but first just to ensure we are all on the same page, let’s lay down a little charter school foundation. Starting with…

What is a Charter School? According to the PA Department of Education, “a charter school is an independently operated public school.” Charter schools do not charge tuition. Instead, they receive the majority of their funding from their student’s school districts. (More on that later).

From what I could find, West Chester currently has one in-person Charter School option, Collegium Charter School, in Exton. Collegium has about 3,000 students. Correction: An earlier version of this article included a second school, Chester County Family Academy. I recently learned CCFA closed earlier this year.

So, who can start a charter school? Surprisingly, anyone. Of course, it can be a college, a nonprofit, or a museum but it can also be a corporation, a couple of teachers, some parents, or your kid’s classmate’s grandma. The one unifying factor seems to be that no matter who starts it, the school must be “nonsectarian.” 

In the case of Valley Forge Classical Academy, the applicant is Jenifer MacFarland, a WCASD grandparent who was reportedly motivated to begin this ambitious adventure after learning her grandson’s second-grade teacher was receiving continuing education training from a company that also provides training on Critical Race Theory. You may also remember her from a controversial Right-to-Know request she submitted. 

Although the application is not entirely out of leftfield, Jenifer does have a background in education and specifically charter school operations. Serving for a period as a director at the Avon Grove Charter School. Most recently she’s served as an educational consultant before starting her own home-staging business. 

This is how she described the school in a Delaware Valley Journal article. 

“We are a Hillsdale College-licensed curriculum school. The curriculum is a truly classical education, based on classical literature and history as told by original documents of the time. Singapore Math will be the math program, (which is) a highly recognized and effective program.”

Your Classical Education

I don’t know about you, but for me, there were a lot of new concepts bantered about in the above. So here’s your breakdown:

Classical Education is a traditional educational model that was popular around the forming of the country and before. (Yes, I mean 1776.) According, to a resource provided by the school, “Classical education employs a three-stage process of training the mind: (1) the grammar stage, which focuses on learning facts and laying the foundations for advanced study; (2) the logic stage, which teaches students to reason out the relationships between facts and think through arguments; and (3) the rhetoric stage, which focuses on wise and persuasive use of facts and arguments through speech and writing.” 

Based on my loose study of various “classical education” approaches, common components of the curriculum include a focus on a Western perspective, avoidance (or limiting) of technology, and a required study of Latin. In addition to traditional education instruction, students are also said to receive instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue. 

A push toward the idea of a “classical” education picked up during the pandemic. You can read more about this trend here

Hillsdale-College Curriculum: The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum is a complete collection of lesson plans for teaching American history, civics, and government to K-12 students with an in-depth focus on the period of American history from the colonies through the Civil War. (Fortunately) the curriculum also includes American history since the Civil War and American government and civics for both middle and high school students. You can view the full curriculum here. It is currently being used in 50 “classical” schools across the country. 

Singapore Math is s a teaching method based on the national mathematics curriculum used in first through sixth grade in Singaporean schools. Singaporean students routinely rank among the top in the world in math and several studies have shown the effectiveness of this approach. For the last 20 years, there has been a trend in the U.S. schools to adopt the curriculum.

Socratic Method is another teaching concept that will be utilized by the school. Developed by Socrates around 400 BC, the method involves a teacher asking probing questions to engage students in discussion. The aim of the questions is to get to the underlying beliefs upon which each participant’s statements, arguments, and assumptions are built. It is a practice that is commonly used in law and medical schools. While the practice has merits, it has also been prone to abuse, a practice known as “pimping.

Areas of Concern

Ok, that’s enough on the educational approach. So, what’s the big deal? This school might not be a good fit for my kids, but is it really so bad if someone else wants an 18th-century education? 

“The beauty of a charter school is that if it doesn’t fit your child or align with your beliefs, your child doesn’t have to attend there,” Jenifer says in defense of her school and she would have a point if it didn’t come down to one thing.

Money, my friends. It always comes down to the money and while Jennifer argues that charter school enrollment does not hurt the school district, it just moves the money to educate a student from one bucket to another. (And not even at a full one-to-one ratio mind you. Charter schools actually get about 30 percent less per student than the district.) Still, studies have shown it is not that simple. 

The problem is fixed costs. Moving a student out of the district doesn’t lessen mortgage payments or maintenance costs or principal salaries. Move enough students out and you may be able to eliminate a teacher from the payroll or close a school but until then you are taking a loss. One Pennsylvania study found school districts could recoup no more than 20 percent of the money lost to charter schools in the first year by cutting costs. In five years, they could recover no more than two-thirds.

That is not to say charter schools don’t have a role and perhaps, even a growing role. A sweeping new study found that charter schools consistently outperform traditional public schools. After initially fighting the charter for Collegium, in 2021 the district unanimously renewed the charter for five years, the maximum allowed under state law.  

Still, that doesn’t solve the funding problem for the rest of the district’s students – the actual impact of which is not yet known.

According to an article Jenifer recently published in Delaware Valley Journal, Valley Forge Classical Academy currently has 93 students pre-enrolled for the 2024 school year most of which are not from the WCASD. 

Unfortunately, funding isn’t the only thing making the school application controversial. Investigations by a local public school advocacy group turned up people to leadership positions and marketing tactics by the group that have been linked to extremist views online. It is an emerging trend advocates of a “classical education” fear. This post digs further into those practices. 

Together for Public Schools has also learned Alain Oliver, who is running for WCASD school board, is also a VFCA board member. It would seem to me to be a conflict of interest to sit on the boards of two competing educational programs. You can read more about Alain’s proposed role here.

Daily Local Columnist Will Wood also shared concerns about the application. 

The nitty gritty

public hearing on the application will be held June 14 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Fugett Middle School. This is a public hearing and residents of the WCASD will be able to comment. 

After the public hearing, School Board members will vote on the application. If the application fails, Valley Forge Classical Academy will still be able to appeal. 

Note, whether you are for or against the proposal, the appeals case will consider only material gathered either before or during the hearing. So, if you want to be on the record for this one, make a plan to do it now. 

Gay Street’s Getting a Refresh (Yay!)

On the left, an old barrier, on the right a barrier refreshed in the new “Borough blooms” theme.

Perhaps you noticed people out on the street last weekend with paintbrushes and buckets of blue paint? Don’t worry, it was not a rogue group of residents bent on redoing those lego-shaped barriers (although, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has been discussed) but rather a coordinated effort by West Chester’s Public Arts Commission. 

“The artwork on [the barriers] has been stagnant since it was created for the first year Gay Street was closed,” said PAC Chair Jimmer Breen. “There were some recent inquiries about refreshing them, so the PAC, under the leadership of PAC member and local artist Kendra Bietzel has developed a plan.”

Yay, I love a plan. 

“The idea is to breathe new life into the barriers through a unified color scheme and theme,” said Jimmer. “So far we’ve painted some blank sides with various shades of blue, and slowly we’ll start to incorporate some imagery on point with the selected theme, “Borough Blooms.”

The idea of blooms was selected to better connect the asphalt-heavy closure with the naturally occurring florals found on more residential streets.

“The PAC landed on the Borough Blooms theme to incorporate more ‘nature’ into the Gay Street Open Air Market and soften the concrete blocks with blooms that we see all around the borough,” said Kendra.

The new creative will be rolled out over the next few weeks as the PAC coordinates volunteers, manages limited supplies, and shutdown logistics.

“Since the blocks get moved every week for the opening and closing of the market it presents a challenge accessing them all. Residents can expect to see PAC members painting these throughout the next few weeks. We’re working quickly to get them refreshed so they can be enjoyed,” said Kendra. 

I don’t know about you but I’m excited.

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Milling completed on New Street this week.

Avoid this area. Work began this week on the Bolmar Street Culvert Replacement Project just northwest of Autopark Blvd. The road will be closed during construction and traffic detoured around the work. Businesses in the area such as Sartomer Inc, A. Duie Pyle Inc, and Lewis Automotive may be accessed from the East Nields Street intersection. You can find more details on the project here

It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Milling, or the removal of the topmost layer of asphalt, began yesterday at New and Market and New and Wollerton Streets. Hopefully, this work means summer paving projects are set to begin soon.

Don’t breathe too deep (yet). After multiple days of “unhealthy” air quality, it looks like the smoke is finally moving out. 

Electric bills could be higher than normal this summer. Forecasters are predicting a hotter-than-normal summer, which will likely mean higher than normal energy bills. To help fight this while lowering overall energy usage the Borough of West Chester is partnering with PECO to offer a discounted Home Energy Assessment for residents. The assessments are performed by an experienced energy advisor, who will provide and install free energy-saving products and give you unbiased recommendations that can help reduce energy costs. If you live in the borough, use the code “SUMMER25” for $25 off your energy assessment.

“We have a great creative team as far as product development. We are excited to see how that has matched up with people’s tastes.” 

Dan Shaw, head brewer Wrong Crowd


Wrong Crowd Brewing, 342 Hannum Ave.

Congratulations this week to Wrong Crowd Brewing. According to Next Glass, the parent company of the popular beer app Untapped, the Hannum Ave Brewery is among the fastest-growing breweries in the U.S. based on the percent increase of check-ins on the app. From 2020-2022, Wrong Crowd saw its check-in numbers increase a whopping 1056 percent, making it the fifth fastest-growing brewery in the country. 

That’s some eye-popping there growth, so I checked in with Wrong Crowd Head Brewer Dan Shaw to see if he had seen this coming. 

“We’ve definitely undergone a lot of growth,” he says. This is despite, or perhaps, because of their continued push to see where styles can go. “We have a great creative team as far as product development. We are excited to see how that has matched up with people’s tastes.” 

Dan suspects the growth comes from a favorable mix of regulars and outsiders. “We have a very dedicated local following. It’s great to get their feedback,” he says, especially on those brews that push the envelope. “But so is talking people that have traveled hours to come and see what they have been hearing about.”

Will Wrong Crowd be slowing down and enjoying its success? 

Of course not. “We have a few new projects we’re excited about,” says Dan including their first-ever series of bottled beers which they will release this summer, and a foray into wild ales, a naturally fermented brew that has been compared to the beer version of sourdough.  

“It’s definitely a niche type of beer but we try to make what challenges us,” says Dan. 

New to Wrong Crowd and want to get a good look at what makes them special? Before jumping to a wild ale or one of their famous sours, Dan suggests starting with a pilsner or a lager.

“You can always get a really good idea of a brewer’s ability by testing his (or her) pilsners or lagers because finesse is required. You must pay attention at all levels of the process.” 

Also, this week a shoutout to Ground Provisions, the Chadds Ford eatery from Vedge founders Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, on being named one of the top new restaurants in the region by Visit Philadelphia. Kudos. I know, I for one, am eager to try it. 

And a fist bump to Jamie Lundmark. The former NHL player and founder of West Chester-based Method Hockey has accepted a position on the Princeton coaching staff. Jamie will be serving as both the Director of Player Development and Assistant Coach of the Tiger’s Women’s Hockey team. 

“I’ve seen the evolution of the women’s game over the last few years up close through my work with Method Hockey,” Jamie told the Go Prince Tigers website.

Now a check in on some local teams still out there battling to prove they are the best. 

  • The Rustin Boy’s Lacrosse team is in new territory. This week the Golden Knights played in and won their first-ever PIAA state playoff game with a dominant 17-2 victory over Scranton Prep. They can thank the win in part to an impressive 9-point performance by senior attackman Jake Jackson. Not only did Jake have a big game, but he’s having a monster season. Knocking down two big milestones in the win including 200 career points and 100 points in a season. 100 points in a season is a new Rustin record. The boys are not done yet. They will be back in action on Saturday against Northwestern Lehigh. 
  • Also, making waves, sound waves, are the East Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, and Concert Choirs. All three took first in their divisions at the Six Flags America’s Music in the Parks competition in D.C. 
  • And unfortunately, it’s a wrap on this year’s high school baseball and softball seasons. The final two teams standing fell this week. Rustin boys lost in the first round of the state tournament. (Although, it sounds like it was quite the game.) Rustin Girls’ Softball team held on a little longer, winning their first round of the state tournament before losing to Armstrong last night.

Finally, congratulations to King on finding his forever home


The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce announces the West Chester Christmas Parade will be held Friday December 1, 2023, and thousands of holiday lights will decorate the streets of the borough from Thanksgiving through New Year’s during Chester County Hospital Lights Up Holiday Weekends in West Chester.

Hellllooo, Santa. It’s a Christmas announcement in June! The West Chester Chamber of Commerce announced this week the Christmas Parade will take place on Dec. 1 of this year. After a few tense months last year and a threat to shutter it, it sounds like the parade is settling into its new downsized format.

“We’re really looking to honor our Chester County favorites as well as embrace an array of newcomers this year to this incredible hometown, family parade experience,” said Katie Walker, President of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

The Chambers reports that last year’s event drew 20,000 visitors downtown. A respectable amount but roughly half of the QVC-sponsored, pre-pandemic parade extravaganzas. Don’t worry, for those of you not entirely sold on the new format, it won’t be exactly the same. 

This year there will be more bands. “By popular demand,” the release reads.

If you would like a view from the streets, GWCCC is accepting parade applicants through August 1. 

Now, back to your summer programming. So it’s been a little while since I have been over to Highland Orchards, but there was a time when the beer garden picnic area paired with their new playground and baby goats made for the perfect cap to a summer afternoon. Well, it may be time to revisit that tradition now that Levante is the official orchard brewer of summer (and fall) 2023. According to their very official website, your favorite Carter Drive brewer will be holding down fort weekends from now through October 29 serving draft beers and single can “crack ‘ems.” 

Speaking of mindless diversions, have you seen Dr. Justin Sloane’s shoe-tying TikTok video yet? According to the New York Post, last month the West Chester OB-GYN went viral after demonstrating how surgeons tie their shoes. Originally shared last year, the video was recently reposted to the WebMD TikTok feed where it once again sucked up views. It got me too. I’m ready to try before my next run – and on all the kids’ shoes. 

Finally, hello, sweetness. Wednesday is Cannoli Day at Carlino’s. 


Goodbye, and good luck to this year’s graduating seniors. It was just six months into their freshman year when the world began to shut down, leading some to call this the “Covid Class” but don’t think they’ll let that define them. 

As the East students wrote in their program: “When nothing went right, we went left.” 

Graduating on Tuesday, East High School; graduating on Wednesday (amid the smoke) Henderson and graduating on Thursday, (also amid the smoke) Rustin. 

Pay it forward.

This year all participating Juneteenth locations will feature the same unifying banner.

Celebrating Juneteenth 

For the last three years, West Chester has in some way honored Juneteenth but while the passion was there the presentation was at times disjointed. Events and presentations seemed to pop up at random all over the borough. So last year the parties all came together and agreed on a cohesive program around the theme, “Journeying Toward Freedom.” 

“Our main goal is to have people think what is Juneteenth?” says Lilly Mercado, Marketing & Outreach Associate for the Chester County Community Foundation who is helping coordinate the joint venture. Lilly stresses the event is still very much in its pilot phase. “We are first starting with education,” she says. 

The coalition of organizations, which includes West Chester Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste, Chester County Sheriff Fredda Maddox, the Chester County History Center, Melton Center, Chester County Art Association, and the Chester County Community Foundation among others, has events planned from June 14 through June 19 throughout the county.

Among the events being held here are an Underground Railroad tour hosted by the Chester County History Center, an African American Quilting Art Show at the Chester County Art Association, and a Saturday evening celebrating West Chester activist Bayard Rustin

“That’s the event I am most excited for,” says Lilly of the two-hour event featuring a performance from Illuminating Bayard by People’s Light Theater and video commentary from creators behind the Netflix film Rustin due out this fall. Joining by video presentation will be actor Colman Domingo, who plays Rustin, and director George C. Wolfe. 

The series of events will culminate, as it has in the past, with a Freedom Festival at the Melton Center on Juneteenth celebrating “black excellence” with food trucks, dance performances, choir performances, and games. This event and all events are open to everyone. 

“It doesn’t just need to be a black people celebration,” says Lilly. “No one was really free until everyone was free. This is why we celebrate.” Cheers to that. 


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The freakin’ weekend.

Summer in the city.

What are you up to this weekend? With the end of the school year rapidly approaching (Tuesday for all of those without daily email reminders) our scheduled weekend activities are dwindling. So if the air quality will allow, I see a relaxing walk to the Growers’ Market and a trip to the pool in my future. 

If you are around this weekend, why not head over to our state’s best main street and check out the barrier makeover firsthand while shopping for some Father’s Day gifts? A few local ideas: 

Speaking of Levante, if you are a teacher (or work in a school) head over to either location (Carter Dr. or Highland Orchard) anytime through Sunday for a free pour. You’ve earned it! (Just don’t forget your school ID.) 

And finally, Monkey Fish Toys’s B.I.G sale starts Sunday. 

And this week a very special thank you to this week’s Community Sponsor Something’s Awry Productions. Something’s Awry is an animation studio that built its reputation finding beauty and humor in the unexpected. Don’t believe me? Check out their winning entry in this year’s West Chester Film Festival!

Something’s Awry

Locally owned Something’s Awry Productions is an artist-driven animation studio that creates amazing 3D branded content and original IP for companies and studios worldwide. They are known for wowing their clients with unexpected beauty and their slightly ‘awry’ and off-beat humor. Take a look at their work at https://somethingsawry.com/

View the full list of our amazing Community Sponsors here. Want to get your business out in front of this wonderful community? I don’t blame you. Community Sponsorships are full but limited ad space remains in June and July. Send me an email if you are interested and I’ll send you details.

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Mark your calendars:

  • June 9 – Better Than Bacon, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Better Than Bacon performs in completely unscripted improvisatial games, all driven by audience suggestions. Tickets: $25/advance; $30/door
  • June 9 – 11 – West Chester University Poetry & Creative Arts Festival, University’s new Sciences & Engineering Center and The Commons. The theme for the 2023 festival is Will’s Survival: Shakespeare’s Legacy. Poetry workshops are offered on a variety of topics related to Shakespeare and hosted by published poets of national and international renown.
  • June 10 – Sharp Dance Company, Uptown Theater, 2:00 p.m. SHARP blends classic dance technique with intriguing stories. This is their first performance at Uptown.
  • June 10 – West Goshen Township Community Yard Sale, 1025 Paoli Pike and throughout West Goshen. West Goshen residents register by June 5 to get your home listed on the sale site map.
  • June 10 – Good Samaritan 5K, East Goshen Township Park, 9 a.m.; kids .5 mile run begins at 8:30 a.m. Registration: $35 to run; $25 for kids or to walk. Proceeds go to support health and wellness activities in the Delaware Valley.
  • June 10 – Strawberry Harvest Celebration, Highland Orchards, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Kick off picking season with a shuttle ride to the strawberry fields. Enjoy food trucks, local crafters, beer, and wine & spirits.
  • June 10 – Yoga in the Street, Gay Street (near the Post Office), 9 – 10 a.m. No registration required. Just bring a mat and $5 entrance fee (cash only!)
  • June 10 – Halloween in June, Artillery Brewing, 7 – 11 p.m. Costume party with prizes and four hours of live music. Cover: $5.
  • June 11 – West Goshen Summer Concert Series, Hagerty Amphitheater, West Goshen Park, 6:30 p.m. In event of rain, concerts will be moved to Fugett Middle School Auditorium. A donation for the West Chester Food Cupboard is encouraged. Music: A children’s concert featuring Steve Pullara and Cool Beans Music.
  • June 12 – $5 Movie Monday – Grease Sing Along, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Includes free popcorn!
  • June 13 – Community Conversation: Juneteenth, 12 p.m. Engage in a community conversation about the history and evolution of Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. This is a virtual event from the Chester County Community Foundation. Registration is required.
  • June 14 – From Whence We Came: Finding Black Ancestors in the Historical Record, 7 – 8:30 p.m. This is a virtual pay-as-you-wish event from the Chester County History Center.
  • June 15 – Kid Craft Time, Monkey Fish Toys, 10 – 11 a.m. Free craft time. Come in anytime between 10 and 11 a.m. Good for kids 3+.
  • June 15 – Dr. Clifford E. DeBaptiste Visionary Award Reveal, Milestone Events, 4 p.m. RSVP by June 10 to attend.
  • June 15 – Town Tours & Village Walks: Westtown School, 999 Westtown Rd. Enter at the sounth entrance. Tours generally last 50 minutes. Tours begin at 5:30 with the last on leaving at 7 p.m. Learn about the agricultural history of Westtown Township’s longest operating school.
  • June 15 – Music at Marshall, Marshall Square Park, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Free concert in the park presented by the Friends of Marshall Square Park. Musical guests, the Sin Brothers. Food trucks arrive at 5 p.m. Face painting available from 6:15 – 8:15 p.m.
  • June 15 – East Bradford Summer Concert Series, East Bradford Park, 7 p.m. Music: Echoes of the British Invasion.
  • June 17 – An Ecological Landscaping Tour, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. This tour of native planting technique begins at Barclay Friends and continues to Birmingham Friends on Birmingham Road in West Chester and ends at Kendal at Longwood in Kennett. Directions to each location is provided. Registration is encouraged but not required.
  • June 17 – Yoga in the Street, Gay Street (near the Post Office), 9 – 10 a.m. No registration required. Just bring a mat and $5 entrance fee (cash only!)
  • June 17 – Swing Dance Lessons, West Chester Public Library courtyard, 2 -4 p.m. Lessons are followed by a free dance period. This is a free event presented by the library and Rittenhop Dance.
  • June 18 – Sail On – the Beachboys Tribute, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Performing all of the classic hits, plus some from the extended catalog, Sail On faithfully recreates the soundtrack to an Endless Summer, live and in rich detail. Tickets: $35/40/45 in advance, $40/45/50 at the door.

Psst. Like to plan ahead? Check out the new Summer Event Guide full of photos and videos from West Chester’s favorite summer events or visit the Calendar page for events through September!

That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week. 

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