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Charter School Renewals In Baltimore
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February 13, 2013
The Baltimore city school board voted last night to close one charter school and not to renew the contracts of several others. But members put off deciding whether to close other schools whose licenses were revoked. WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn reports.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Parents and school officials packed the district’s board room and an overflow room as they waited to hear the fate of their charter and independent schools. Paulette Smith, the student life and admissions coordinator at Baltimore Freedom Academy, was one of many who made impassioned pleas to keep their schools open.
Paulette Smith: We do a lot right at Baltimore Freedom Academy. A lot. We don’t do everything right and we recognize that. But to shut this school down, to remove the social supports that come to the kids that come to our school, would really do a disservice and that’s from my heart.
Glenn: But by the end of the long meeting, the board voted not to renew Freedom Academy’s operator’s contract. It also voted not to renew the contracts of Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy and Baltimore Civ-i-taz Middle/High schools and to take over Collington Square and Montebello Elementary/Middle schools at the end of this school year. Schools CEO Andres Alonso, who recommended that the contracts not be renewed, says the decisions were not a death knell for charter schools in the district.
Baltimore City Schools CEO Andres Alonso: I also want to send a message to the charter community, Because I don’t want the act of nonrenewal in some cases or the limitations on full renewal in others to be misunderstood. Which is that this is really health in terms of the future charters in Baltimore. Charters have to be about performance and they have to be about innovation.
Glenn: Alonso made his recommendations to the board after a review committee found low test scores and shortcomings at some schools in terms of management of operations and finances. Although the board agreed with most of Alonso’s recommendations, they could not decide if the schools whose contracts were revoked, should close. With the exception of Civitaz, the board voted to defer decisions on closing the schools until more information is presented to them. They also disagreed on the fate of Baltimore Talent Development High School. Some members wanted it to close, while others wanted to give the school’s operator a three-year contract. The issue was tabled. Board member Drew Stone opposed all of Alonso’s recommendations because he had concerns with the process.
Drew Stone: The process itself is not the way charter schools were meant to be evaluated. And therefore, you will see me vote no on every single one of these because I can’t pick and choose which ones I think ought to be approved if I don’t believe the process was solid.
Glenn: The district established a working group to come up with the renewal process for charter and independent schools last year. Carol Beck, director of Supporting Public Schools of Choice, was a member of the group. She pointed out that most of the 25schools that submitted renewal applications were approved by the board.
Carol Beck: I think the process was really fair. The ones closing, unfortunately, there was, the preponderance of evidence was that there was not a strong academic program and not enough of an indicator that there was sort of a coherent plan for moving forward.
Glenn: But many parents were not pleased with the board’s decisions not to renew the contracts or feeling left in limbo because the board made no final decisions on closures. Lisa Turner, whose son attends Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy, hopes his school stays open.
Lisa Turner: The school is unique. It’s in an unique area--urban area of the city the school is necessary for these boys. It’s an all boys school. Its necessary. and to take that away its is a travesty.
Glenn: Alonso says charter schools are essential and that although some will close, it doesn’t mean the district has a lack of faith in the concept. I’m Gwendolyn Glenn reporting in Baltimore for 88 1, WYPR.
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