Arise Academy, HOPE Charter and Truebright Science Academy are now on the clock.
In a meeting late last week, the School Reform Commission took no action on the district’s recommendation to not renew their charters, meaning these schools only have one full academic year to change the minds of officials in the SRC and Office of Charter Schools.
“The vote speaks for itself in regard to the performance of the schools, and the vote represents the SRC’s continued commitment to support high quality schools and programs, and close programs that are low performing,” said school district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “This is being done across all public schools, and that is the message the SRC sent with this vote.”
The SRC’s decision means these schools will remain open until their current charter runs out at the end of the 2012–2013 academic year. Charters are renewable every five years.
School district officials have repeatedly promised to close schools that were either low performing, had ongoing precipitous drops in enrollment or operated in dangerous and obsolete buildings — and it has delivered on that promise by closing eight public schools at the end of this school year. But few could have predicted charter schools would be among the sacked schools, especially when it wasn’t previously announced that charter schools were under consideration for closure.
“The SRC’s decision underlined the need to do this on a very fast track, and [the board] felt that they couldn’t wait and do this slowly and piecemeal,” Gallard said. “So that is why [the SRC] has taken this step, and this is the first time it has done this in many years — to not renew these three charter schools.”
Truebright CEO Dr. Bekir Duz believes that not only is Truebright a success, it will prove over the next academic year that it can continue to meet and exceed standards.
“This was only the first meeting; it was procedural and [the SRC’s decision] does not close the school,” Duz said, noting that the SRC plans to hold another meeting in June to further discuss the schools’ fate. “This is the first step in the process, and it really gives Truebright an opportunity to present evidence to the school district.
“The school will operate in 2012 and is accepting applications.”
Duz may have a chance. A statement from the school district read in part, that the “SRC will be postponing a vote on the recommendations for charter school renewals in order to best plan a process that takes into consideration the financial and legal conditions that may affect future decisions around growth and cost of charter schools.”
Duz believes if the SRC had the proper data to begin with, Truebright wouldn’t even be considered for non-renewal.
“We have a very strong case. We have been operating for five full years, and Truebright has established a strong financial record, and the SRC has recognized that,” Duz said. “We have stable governing and leadership, and we will prove it to them."
That these charter schools have to go through such lengths alone is a travesty, especially when considering the type of work charters do, said Dr. Walter D. Palmer, a career educator and founder of the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School.
“You’ve got a number of charter schools out there doing special types of work. The one thing not taken into consideration is that these particular schools are working with the most problematic students in the entire state of Pennsylvania,” Palmer said. “They have lost their education to the state, and [these charters] are being asked to get these kids back on track in a very short period of time.
“Very few charter schools make progress in the first several years; they need to be given an opportunity, because you can’t turn around these kids in one or two semesters or in two to three years.”
Palmer believes that charter schools like his and others take students with behavioral or mental health issues who often hail from depressed and crime-ridden neighborhoods. In taking on such students, these schools should be cut some slack.
“We need these schools, because they are doing what these other schools don’t want to do,” Palmer said, pinning the blame squarely on the SRC, and an educational system based more on a colonial-style of testing, grading and teaching. “You have to give them more than three years to turn it around.
“How can you reverse 50 years of bad educational management [by the school district] and expect these schools to turn around in three years?”