The agency responsible for oversight of the state’s charter schools is recommending closing the International Charter School of Schenectady at the end of this school year, the school board president told parents Monday night.
Board President Tracy Petersen told a crowd of about 30 parents that this is only a preliminary recommendation and the school is prepared to fight.
“I believe we’ll be here next year. Hopefully you believe me and believe yourself,” she said. “We need to get off our butts so we can change this decision.”
The Charter Schools Institute is the agency responsible for oversight of charter schools in New York. It sent the draft recommendation to the school’s board of trustees on Friday.
This is just the latest event in a series of changes for the school. On Jan. 21, the school’s Board of Trustees fired former director Sam Penceal and Information Technology Director James Desira. Penceal had only been on the job since August. Last March, the school parted ways with SABIS, the educational management company that had been running the school since its inception.
School officials have already begun to appeal the Charter Schools Institute’s recommendation. They have asked representatives from CSI to visit the school again, which they will do on Feb. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the school’s auditorium. Planning for that meeting is under way, Petersen said. The board discussed the report in 90-minute executive session following its regular meeting on Monday.
“We’ll continue to work diligently to see that this school survives.” Petersen said.
CSI’s final recommendation is due on Feb. 22. The State University of New York Board of Trustees makes the final decision and is scheduled to vote on the matter at its March 11 meeting.
Petersen said one of the reasons the institute recommended nonrenewal was the low enrollment of the school. The charter school was approved to have 750 students and it only has about 580 currently. The institute said the enrollment may be an indication of the “desirability” of the school as an option for local parents and added that the enrollment drop could have an effect on whether the school is financially viable.
The charter school draws students from primarily the Schenectady City School District. It originally was based at the former Fulton School on Eleanor Avenue before it purchased the former Draper School in Rotterdam and relocated students there in January 2006.
Petersen encouraged parents to re-enroll their children in the school and complete the necessary forms — including requests for student transportation — by March 15. She said parents could even enroll their children in both the city schools and the charter schools for next year as a backup. She also asked people to spread the word to friends.
“We have room for your children, your children’s friends and we could enroll them now,” she said.
The school’s parent-teacher organization, the Parent Connection, will hold a meeting at 7 tonight at the school to discuss strategies.
Petersen said the board could not discuss the Charter Schools Institute report’s contents publicly.
“This is a contractual matter. Our charter is a contract we have with the state,” he said.
She added she only mentioned the enrollment issue publicly because it struck her as “disingenuous.” The enrollment drop did not affect the school’s financial health.
“We adjusted our budget accordingly and we have and remained fiscally sound,” she said.
The Daily Gazette has also been unsuccessful in obtaining a copy of the draft report. Spokeswoman Cynthia Proctor said previously that because it is not a final recommendation, it is an interagency document and not subject to the Freedom of Information Law. The institute said it would provide information data tables used in the recommendation, but had not done so as of Monday night.
In the event the school is not successful at reversing the nonrenewal recommendation, Petersen said the institute would work with parents to provide alternative education options. She said she hoped that list would be provided at the Feb. 19 meeting.
The board would also have the opportunity to correct errors in the report. For example, the report called the school’s top administrator a principal instead of a director and gave the wrong name.
Petersen pointed to academic gains the school has made. She pointed to an increase of 26 percent on the school’s social studies test over last school year. About 66 percent are at level four — the highest level of proficiency. Some early results for the English Language Arts tests taken in grades three and four show 59 percent of students achieved a level 3 or 4, which indicates proficiency. This is short of the Charter Schools Institute’s 75 percent threshold, according to Petersen.
“However, it shows a marked improvement from last year to this year, and what does that tell you — our academic program is working,” she said.
Geraldine Wolfe, the executive director for the board, said seventh- and eighth-graders performed poorly on mock mathematics tests and the school is stepping up its instruction in preparation for the real tests this spring.
Following an executive session, the board approved a severance agreement with Penceal that will pay him $20,000 in eight payments of $2,500.
Penceal has also agreed not to make any negative remarks about the school.
Earlier, Petersen had reiterated the explanation that Penceal was let go because he failed to meet expectations and she said she was legally prohibited from discussing it further.
Nichole Warner of Schenectady, whose 10-year-old Alex and 6-year-old Laurelee attend the school, said she was very distressed by the news of the recommendation.
“I think it’s very upsetting because in Schenectady there is no alternative for education. Some of the Schenectady School District schools are failing and I don’t want them to go there,” she said.
She said she is pleased with the progress her children have made in the charter school. She said Alex is pretty fluent in Spanish and Laurelee is reading at two years above grade level.
Parent Jesse Watson said he also wanted to help out. “If you don’t stand up and fight for it, no need to squawk later,” he said.
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