By Frank Herstek
The State Education Department’s Charter School Office seems to be playing a game of “Gotcha!” with local charter schools. It expects charter schools to perform at a certain level, but it has not defined that level or how schools should get there. Charter schools are trying to hit a moving target. When they miss the moving target, the Education Department closes them. The victims are Buffalo’s schoolchildren.
Citing a history of poor performance, the department and the Board of Regents decided to close Community Charter School, effective this June. A May 7 Another Voice supporting the decision told only a part of Community’s story. For the past year, Community has been operating under a turnaround plan designed by education experts. The practice of utilizing turnaround plans in low-performing schools is a proven solution for struggling schools.
The turnaround began in August 2012. Since then, the school has made remarkable progress. The former board was replaced with nine new members. A new administrative team was hired and is positively impacting instructional practices. The staff is focused on meeting challenges presented by children with histories of school struggles.
The board recognized it needed outside help with this process, and it hired consultants and experts to help implement the plan. As a result, students are overcoming the mystery of state testing. Community now uses a data‑driven model of instruction that reveals areas in need of remediation, with students reaping the benefits.
In its review, the Education Department failed to acknowledge the turnaround plan. When it visited the school, it indicated it would not provide Community with any technical assistance to help it meet the criteria for charter school success. But, when it came time for renewal, the department suddenly had a lot to say about how Community failed to meet this elusive target.
The opinions of local officials, consultants and business leaders and the recent press surrounding the Board of Education elections emphasize the difficulties the Buffalo Public School District is having turning around its underperforming schools. Why do state officials want to return Community’s children to a district still working on a “how to” turnaround model when Community already has a successful plan in place?
Community is a safe school where attendance is exemplary and parent satisfaction is high. The board and staff are serious about making Community a school of excellence and have made measurable progress this year. More importantly, the Education Department needs to issue transparent regulations about charter school performance expectations. It should not be able to simply say, “Gotcha! You’re closed.”
Frank Herstek, Ed.D, is an independent consultant on school reform. He has worked with Community Charter School.