Schenectady County

Schenectady charter school officials fired

Two officials at the International Charter School of Schenectady were fired this week, including the
Sam Penceal was fired Friday as director of the International Charter School of Schenectady.
Sam Penceal was fired Friday as director of the International Charter School of Schenectady.

Two officials at the International Charter School of Schenectady were fired this week, including the school’s director who had been on the job for only six months.

Director Sam Penceal “was released from his contract” on Friday “after failing to meet expectations set by the board,” according to a statement released by the school. Assistant Director Shirley Reed was appointed acting director.

On Wednesday, the school’s head of information technology, James Desira, was fired, said Saleem Cheeks, account supervisor for Eric Mower and Associates, a public relations firm representing the school. Rotterdam police were called by the school as a precaution. There was no untoward incident at that time, police and Cheeks said. Cheeks said Desira was dismissed before school started, but he could not go into personnel matters including why the employees were fired.

Penceal came to the charter school in July after running eight charter schools in the Cleveland area for Mosaica Education Inc., with Reed working as director of one of those schools before joining him at ICSS. During Penceal’s brief tenure, the school saw a sharp decline in enrollment — from 720 students last year to 584 currently. This was in part the result of a failure to line up bus transportation for many of the school’s students in time for the first day of classes in September.

“Forms didn’t make it to the Schenectady School District,” Reed said. The lower enrollment resulted in the layoff of three teachers and two support staff last year.

The school is still awaiting word from the State University of New York Board of Trustees on its application to have its charter renewed. SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute denied permission last year for the K-8 school to expand to include ninth grade, and SUNY trustees denied a three-year renewal of the school’s charter after the school’s board fired SABIS Educational Systems Inc., the company that helped open the school in 2002 and ran it until March 2007.

Cynthia Proctor, director of public affairs for the Charter Schools Institute, said in an e-mail Friday that her organization “is in regular contact with the school. We made a multiple-day renewal visit to the school from Nov. 12th through the 16th where we analyzed the school’s performance through the lens of our renewal benchmarks [a set of specific criteria designed to gauge whether the school is an academic success; an effective viable organization; fiscally sound; and whether its plans for the future are reasonable and achievable].”

Proctor said the Institute was made aware this month “of the board’s plans to make a change in school leadership.”


On Tuesday, Proctor said, as part of the renewal process, a 6 p.m. meeting is scheduled with parents at the school. Cheeks said that meeting would not be open to the news media or general public.

“We are still in the process of collecting information and anticipate making a final renewal recommendation during the last week of February,” Proctor said. “The renewal options open to the school are a short-term renewal of between two and four years, or non-renewal.”

Marie Ginter, who has two children in the school, was sorry to hear about Penceal’s departure. “He has done such a tremendous job at that school,” she said, especially with the younger children. “I can’t believe he isn’t going to be there any more.” Penceal was “much more involved” than the two prior directors, she said.

Penceal and Desira could not be reached for comment. Cheeks declined to provide personal contact information for Penceal. Reed and Doris Belton, the former board president who resigned earlier this month, said they didn’t have it.

Belton said her resignation was not connected to the current turmoil, about which she declined to comment.

Reed said she has worked in education for 34 years, most of it as a teacher and administrator in the public schools. She received her master’s degree in education, administration and supervision from Baldwin-Wallace College.

Cheeks said the board has full confidence in Reed and has not yet decided whether to undertake a search for a permanent director.

The school’s statement said Reed will continue to oversee the charter renewal application as she did in her previous role as the assistant director and academic dean.

“We owe it to our students and their parents to ensure that we maintain the highest standards for academic excellence,” board President Tracy Petersen was quoted as saying. “Shirley Reed’s experience as assistant director of ICSS makes her the perfect candidate to provide continuity in leadership and move the school in a direction that lives up to the expectations of our parents, students, staff and community.”

The ICSS is located in the former Draper School in Rotterdam, but draws most of its students from the Schenectady district.

Charter schools in New York state are run by private organizations, but receive state aid for each child enrolled. In Schenectady and other localities this has generated opposition from the public school district.

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