Under pressure, Sankofa Academy asks for more time

Posted: April 29, 2014

WEST CHESTER In the face of closure, board members at West Chester's Sankofa Academy have asked for more time to save the struggling charter, saying they were unaware of the severity of the school's problems.

"The board is doing a thorough evaluation of the school and the director and trying to determine what we could build on for the future," board member Karin Gedge said. "If the school has a future."

Superintendent James Scanlon does not think it should. On Monday, he plans to ask the West Chester Area School District board to shutter the school effective June 20.

"If they want more time . . . they need to go back and rethink their charter and submit a new application," he said. "But I think this old charter is done."

The possible closure of Sankofa - the only African-centered charter in the suburbs - comes as the state's 176 charters are under increased scrutiny.

The state auditor general cited concerns over accountability at charters as one reason he launched a review of the state Department of Education this year. On Thursday, Philadelphia's School Reform Commission adopted a policy that gives it increased powers to revoke charters and refuse applications over problems including poor academic or financial performance.

According to the West Chester school district, those issues have plagued Sankofa, a fifth-through-12th-grade school founded in 2005.

District administrators cite a litany of concerns: Recent test scores that show just 5 percent of students are proficient in math and 10 percent in reading, unpaid bills sent to the district's offices, and not a single progress report from the school to the district in four years.

Enrollment this year peaked at 67.

Director Lamont McKim, when proposing the school, said he planned to enroll 400 pupils in the first five years. McKim - who once collected a $98,000 salary at the school, according to tax returns - did not return requests for comment.

Sankofa has never been on solid financial footing, according to tax returns that show it as much as $131,000 in debt in 2007 and $112,000 in debt two years later.

Gedge, who joined Sankofa's board of directors about a year ago, said she was aware of the deficit but that "many more" issues had come to light since the district raised the possibility of revocation.

She said the board, hoping to understand the problems, had requested a long list of documents from McKim.

"The [West Chester] school board was requesting specific documents. We're requesting those and more," Gedge said, adding that communicating with McKim had been difficult.

Fred Franklin, chairman of Sankofa's board of directors, did not return requests for comment. Scanlon said Franklin requested a one-year extension of the charter at a meeting last week.

"They want to reorganize," Scanlon said. "They want to get new leadership. They want to recruit. They want to find a new site."

Those tasks, he said, are too daunting to tackle over the summer.

The board vote Monday will take place at the end of a 30-day public comment period during which not one former or current Sankofa student - or their families - came to the school's defense, Scanlon said.

The only comment, he said, was sent by the Norristown Area School District, which has about 15 students at Sankofa. The district voiced concerns over the quality of education and encouraged the Department of Education to immediately investigate the school.


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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