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Charter school planned for Millvale

November 18, 2018

Kenneth Nickel, former principal dancer and dance educator, has launched a Millvale foundation to provide high school students with scholarships for academic opportunities outside their classrooms.

Meanwhile, he is developing the R.E.A.A.D.Y. (Redefining Education Achieving Associate Degrees for Youths) STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) & Performing Arts Charter School in Millvale’s former Holy Spirit School, which closed in 2010 due to declining enrollment.

Nickel anticipates the school opening for the 2020-21 school year.

After the school opens, the R.E.A.A.D.Y. Foundation would provide financial support for teachers, classroom supplies, transportation to performances, and scholarships so students could participate in the program. Students would have the opportunity to earn Community College of Allegheny County associate’s degrees upon their graduations.

The following concentrations would exist for ninth- through 12th-graders: dance, music, musical theater, theater, culinary arts, media arts and STEM.

Nickel, 60, said he is excited to participate in Millvale’s revitalization.

“We’re pleased to bring a unique educational component to the heart of Millvale at the former Holy Spirit School. Millvale is a quaint, small town that offers a wonderful sense of community, and we are looking forward to being a part of that.”

Millvale Mayor Brian Spoales said the school will help strengthen the borough’s arts and cultural scene.

“The fact that a high school student can walk out of this program with an associate’s degree is what intrigues me the most. Millvale has many young children that will be able to look at this school and the outreach it has on the local community providing opportunities that have never been present in this area and realize that they could one day attend and make a difference.”

Tina Walker, Millvale Community Development Corp. board member, met with R.E.A.A.D.Y. officials and suggested the vacant Holy Spirit School as a possible charter school location.

“Having such a deep commitment for supporting the arts, I’m thrilled that a school dedicated to the performing arts will become an integral part of our community,” said Walker, who holds a design and visual communications degree.

“The school will provide numerous opportunities for staff and students to share their creative ideas and knowledge, collaborating together in all aspects of our community and significantly adding to its economic stability.”

“I know when I would teach, we would like 18 students to one teacher; I think there should be a focus on individualized education,” said Nickel, of Bradford Woods. Cheryl Aughton, the foundation’s communications director, said the school aims to hire around 25.

Aughton said part of the curriculum would require students to “use their talents to help the community.” For instance, culinary arts students would cook for people in need and dancers would give community recitals. Nickel mentioned staging “The Nutcracker” or a Millvale Riverfront dance festival.

Charter schools aim to provide opportunities for the community while operating outside of the existing school district structure, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education website. Charter schools are exempt from many educational mandates, but still must follow criteria regarding special education, civil rights, health and safety, general accounting and other practices.

According to the website, charter school applications are due to the district school board in which the school will be located, in this case -- the Shaler Area School Board -- by Nov. 15 of the year preceding the school’s anticipated opening.

The local school board should hold at least one public hearing within 45 days of receiving the application. The board must grant or deny charter school applications no later than 75 days after the first public hearing.

Bethany Baker, Shaler Area communications specialist, said the district is aware of Nickel and his interest in developing a charter school, but the district has not received an application.

Nickel is a former principal dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet West and the Dallas Ballet Co. As La Roche College’s artistic director of performing arts, he established a bachelor’s for performing arts in dance and a public school arts dance program. He created the Ambridge Area High School Cyber and Performing Arts Academy in which juniors and seniors can earn associate’s in dance from the Community College of Beaver County.

He also designed the California University of Pennsylvania’s bachelor’s in dance.

To learn more about the foundation and school or to donate, visit reaady foundation.org.

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