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Cooper University’s ‘renaissance school’ could be step in the right direction for Camden

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Cooper University’s new KIPP: Cooper Norcross Academy in Camden held a dedication and ribbon cutting Wednesday morning.

The event took place as the fourth week of school was in session, and highlighted the uphill battle that led to the school’s existence.

KIPP: Cooper Norcross Academy is the first renaissance school in the state and was created under the Urban Hope Act, which allows for similar schools to open in the state’s three struggling school districts: Camden, Newark and Trenton.

Drew Martin, executive director of the academy, said he has seen some disturbing data from tests taken in the first few weeks which highlight the need for the school.

“It’s an unfortunate reality, it’s a tough fact to swallow,” Martin said. “Looking at our kindergarteners … 90 percent of our kids have difficulty identifying 25 percent of the letters in the alphabet.”

Camden Council President Frank Moran said that the hope of the future is to have the students of the school employed in the city after graduating.

“The time and the tide is changing in the city of Camden,” Moran said. “This will be an incubator of preparation … these young minds will soon be the employees of Holtec International and all of the big industries that will come here.”

Fourteen months ago, the site of the 11,000-square-foot campus was nothing more than a pile of dirt, but it was able to open in time for the new school year with a gym, playground and outdoor basketball courts.

The event was held in the gymnasium — brand new like the rest of the school, as is required for it to be a renaissance school  — and was filled with parents, students, Cooper University officials, legislators and local government officials.

“If you look around it is not just a school, it is a campus, and a remarkable campus indeed,” said Camden Mayor Dana Redd.

Congressman Donald Norcross supported the legislation that helped bring the brainchild of his brother, George Norcross — both of whom were at the event Wednesday — to life.

“This is an important part of our community, we are part of this community and have been for over 130 years,” said George Norcross, who serves on the board of Cooper University Hospital.

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