WILKES-BARRE — Brian Hayden stood in the cavernous space at 40 E. Northampton St., bare concrete below and corrugated steel ceiling above. He saw a vision very different from the reality.
“We’ll have an administrative office there, a flex room for staff training and student activities there, a gallery here” where student art will be on display, visible through corner windows facing Northampton and Washington streets.
Hayden is chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, and the space next door to R/C Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 is being set up as the virtual school’s ninth regional office. “Our goal is to have an office within a one-hour drive for all our students,” he said.
PA Cyber is a public school that does not charge tuition and allows students to learn at home via the internet. Based in Midland, northwest of Pittsburgh, it has an enrollment of about 11,100, Hayden said, with 850 within one hour of the new office location and 223 in Luzerne County.
Work on the 6,220 square-foot space has just begun, but Hayden is hoping to have it up and running by September. The company has taken out a 10-year lease at $14 per square foot, a price that includes the renovation work.
Hayden said the office will start with two full-time employees but could grow if needed. While a key reason for the location is to give parents and students a place to stop by for support or to enroll, it can also be used to fit the specific needs of the area. “We find out what kind of activities they want,” he said. “It’s different for every region.”
For example, one office has hosted a ukulele band formed by students, while another has “family cooking nights” and others have yoga or martial arts classes.
PA Cyber also hopes to forge relationships with downtown entities, including Wilkes University, King’s College and Luzerne County Community College, all with campuses just a few blocks away. Another possibility: Trips to the F.M. Kirby Center when live shows are staged for younger audiences.
“We hold a little over 600 field trips a year,” he said.
‘A different place’
Hayden didn’t dance around darker aspects of PA Cyber’s past. Founder Nick Trombetta was indicted in 2013 on 11 counts of tax fraud and pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiring to defraud the IRS. He has been accused of siphoning $8 million in state education money from the cyber school and spending it on luxury goods for himself, friends and family.
“It’s been four years since then,” Hayden said. “We’re in a very different place. It was a painful period.”
The school has also been criticized for low scores on state standardized tests, and Hayden made no excuses, saying PA Cyber is working to improve results. He did note students who enroll in the school early and stay with it tend to score at or above the state averages.
The school must be doing something right: enrollment has been growing steadily for the last few years, he noted.
There will be an open house once work is done, he said, adding that he prefers such urban offices to those set up outside cities, typically near big box stores or suburban chains like Walmart.
“I’m excited about this space.”