Schenectady County

Charter school parents worried

Parents expressed worry Tuesday about the International Charter School of Schenectady’s future and w
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Parents expressed worry Tuesday about the International Charter School of Schenectady’s future and whether they may have to scramble to find alternative schooling for their children in the fall.

Representatives from the State University of New York’s Charter Schools Institute took questions from parents about the school’s application for a new charter during a 90-minute meeting at the school. If the charter were denied, the school would have to shut down at the end of the current school year.

Jennifer Sneed, senior vice president for the institute, said no decision has been made about renewal. The institute is preparing a draft report and recommendation for the school’s Board of Trustees next week. The full SUNY Board of Trustees would then take up the issue at its March 11 meeting.

Sneed said the school is evaluated on four criteria including academic success, effectiveness, financial management and plan for the future. Institute representatives visited the school in November and conducted interviews with staff and parents.

Parents Tuesday said the school — despite all the recent turmoil with the firing of former Director Sam Penceal last week — is a worthwhile alternative to public schools.

James Cooper, who has a 10-year-old daughter, Yasmina, and 8-year-old son, Alexander, in the school, said

“What’s going to happen when you wrangle them out of a place where they’re comfortable?”

He said behavior is out of control in the public schools and these students would have a hard time adjusting if they had to get back in.

Robert Depp said his son used to get in fights in the public school. He transferred him and his other two children to the charter school this year.

“Not only have they been pushed academically and asked to do more than the public schools, they’re safe,” he said.

He also told a reporter that the teachers have a personal contact with the parents and give out their cellular phone numbers to stay in touch.

Ron Miller, vice president for accountability, also shared the results of test scores at the school for the last three years.

In the 2004-05 school year, at least 75 percent of students tested achieved proficiency in the grade four standardized math exam. However, in the next two years the school did not, with 50.2 percent and 51.2 percent for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 years, respectively. For English, the school failed to reach those targets all three years. It had 72.3 percent of students achieve proficiency in 2004-05, 37.3 percent in 2005-06; and 40.5 percent in 2006-07.

“That is a notable drop,” Miller said, adding that the results are about the same as the Schenectady City School District. The charter school has not done as well as similar schools statewide.

Some parents were upset the data from the most recent tests taken this school year will not be included in the report or factored into the final recommendation. They said that students have been working very hard this year and the climate is improved after the school parted ways in March with SABIS — the educational company that had run the school.

Carlista Lopez said after the meeting that her 9-year-old son Christian loves the school. She especially enjoys the small class sizes. However, she said there has been some upheaval at the school with teachers coming and going. She said it would be unfair for the Charter Schools Institute to make its recommendation based on some of these test results because the school was under different management.

One person asked whether the dismissal of Penceal would be taken into account in the recommendation.

Sneed said all factors are considered and typically one thing does not make or break renewal.

Parent Jesse Watson said his son went to Central Park Middle School for one year and got punched three times by three separate students. He transferred him to the charter school.

He said the Charter School Institute officials should look at the matter from a human perspective — and not just raw data.

“What you see here is not policies, not procedures. You see real people,” he said.

He said afterward that he believes the parents deserve some answers about what happened to Penceal and using a sports analogy, said the school needs more time to prove itself. “You fire a coach in midseason, you’ve got to give the team time to turn around,” he said.

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