Charter schools vow challenge to state order to close

Posted: March 09, 2014

Officials and parents at two charter schools that the state has ordered to close at the end of June said the action came before changes instituted this school year could be proven effective, and vowed a challenge.

School community members of the Renaissance Regional Leadership Charter in Pemberton Township and the D.U.E. Season Charter in Camden said the action denied them an opportunity to show improvement that was afforded other schools.

"Needless to say, we are devastated," said Lorna Hassel, Renaissance's head of school. "We had expected an opportunity to have this year's [test] scores considered in this high-stakes decision, anticipating we would be given a year of probation."

D.U.E. thought its probation would be renewed as it continued to implement its remedial plan.

"We want the same opportunity that was provided to the other four charter schools on probation to demonstrate our results," said spokeswoman Olivia Glenn, saying the school was asking the state to rescind its decision.

Both schools were performing in the bottom 14 percent of all public schools, according to the state. At D.U.E., 26 percent of students tested scored proficient or better in language arts for the 2012-13 school year, and 45 percent scored proficient or better in math, slight increases over the previous year.

At Renaissance, 44 percent were proficient or better in language arts, an eight-point drop from the year before. Fifty-seven percent were proficient or better in math, a three-point increase.

In letters e-mailed Wednesday, the schools were told they must cease operations June 30, with the right to appeal the decision to Superior Court's Appellate Division.

Some at Renaissance said they thought a court solution might not happen soon enough to save the school.

Hassel said the school planned to appeal to Gov. Christie and incoming Education Commission David Hespe, and several parents were writing to the governor and other officials to plead the school's case.

Courtney Chmielewski, head of the home-school association, wrote that the school was in the 93d percentile for similar schools for student growth, despite a low academic rating. She said parents were talking about moving or home-schooling their children rather than sending them to regular public schools.

Michele Dougherty, who said she was also writing a letter, said her daughter and son had flourished at the school, compared with their previous schools. Her daughter, now 10, came in two years ago deficient in math, but staff tutored her during the school year and over the summer.

"Now she tells me she gets it, she loves it, and she wants to be a astrophysicist," Dougherty said.

She also praised the school environment as welcoming to parental involvement and having a culture of caring that rubs off on the students.

"My children are not just walking out of there better educated," she said. "They're walking out of there better people."

Since 1996, 34 charter schools in New Jersey have been closed, their charters revoked, not renewed, or surrendered. Twelve closures have occurred under the Christie administration.


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rgiordano@phillynews.com

@ritagiordano

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