State orders 2 S. Jersey charters to close

Posted: March 07, 2014

Two South Jersey schools must close at the end of the academic year following a state decision Wednesday to revoke their charters because of poor performance.

The state announced the closure of Distinctions in Urban Education Season Charter School (DUE) in the Liberty Park section of Camden and Renaissance Regional Leadership Charter in Browns Mills, Pemberton Township.

Ten New Jersey schools had charters renewed, though four of them were put on probation, including ECO Charter School in Camden. A charter school placed on probation must create a remediation plan to describe how it will address deficiencies and monitor improvement.

Both DUE and Renaissance Regional were performing in the bottom 14 percent of state schools and were told in letters e-mailed Wednesday that they must cease operations June 30.

Olivia Glenn, a spokeswoman for DUE, called the decision "shocking" and said the school would appeal. After the school was put on probation in June, Glenn said, administrators submitted a 45-page remediation plan.

Glenn said the revocation - before students take the state Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) test in April - was premature.

"It's outrageous," she said. "You issue probation in June and say you want us to create a plan and implement it and see growth, but you don't allow the issuing of another NJ ASK before you make that decision?"

DUE opened in 2005 with about 200 students and now has more than 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. In its letter, the state said that the board of trustees "did not include members with educational experience," and that after a visit, teachers had "acknowledged gaps in curriculum."

"There is no evidence that the school is providing its students with a quality education or that it has the capacity to dramatically improve," the letter read.

In the 2012-13 school year, only 26 percent of DUE students scored proficient in English and 45 percent scored proficient in math.

The scores were higher than averages in the city district - five percentage points higher in reading and 14 percentage points higher in math.

"We have consistently performed higher than the district," Glenn said. "You can talk about the test scores, but what school are these kids going to go to? Show me what Camden public school is going to do better."

Calls to Renaissance Regional Leadership Charter were not returned. Of 101 students tested there, 44 percent scored proficient in English and 57 percent in math.

The state's letter to the school said, "The school's academic performance has remained dismal."

Michael Turner, a spokesman for the New Jersey Charter School Association, said 30,000 students are enrolled in charters in the state, with 20,000 on waiting lists.

"We need to provide real educational opportunity, but the schools need to be high-performing," Turner said. "We don't want underperforming charter schools that don't provide a good alternative."

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

Inquirer staff writer Rita Giordano contributed to this article.

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