It seems the State Education Department could learn a little about careful management, too. Acting swiftly after court decisions in its favor, the state is moving to close Pinnacle Charter School in Buffalo. Classes were to begin a week from Wednesday. School officials got their notice only last Friday.
The state has good reason to worry about Pinnacle’s performance, although leaders of the charter school say student achievement is improving. Still, the state has to evaluate each charter school. Some won’t make the grade and will have to close. That’s the way it is.
Nevertheless, the state’s action is at least questionable, assuming that Pinnacle is, indeed, making progress. Students will be taken out of that school and sent back to the Buffalo Public Schools, which are in many cases no better. What’s the point in moving from one failing school to another?
More troubling, though, is the timing of the state’s action. As if public education in Buffalo weren’t already in enough disarray, the announcement throws a wrench into the plans of Pinnacle’s 560 students and their families, and of the Buffalo School District, which must now accommodate them.
Robert M. Bennett, a member of the Board of Regents, expressed surprise that leaders of Pinnacle hadn’t made contingency plans in case they lost in court. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea, to be sure, but ultimately, this is the state’s obligation. The state is closing the school; it is accountable for ensuring the education of these children.
A better approach to this matter, given the timing, would have been for the state to have set specific targets for the school to reach by the end of the coming school year. Predictability matters – to Pinnacle, to the school district and especially to the students and families who will be affected by this decision.
The matter has been dragging out for nearly 1½ years. The Board of Regents first announced it wouldn’t renew Pinnacle’s charter in April 2012. The cause was test scores that at the time made the school one of the worst in the state.
Pinnacle went to court, and two months later, State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek granted the school a one-year preliminary injunction. The school had not been given sufficient time to improve its standing, he ruled.
Since then, two subsequent court rulings basically upheld the state’s closure order. That precipitated the new bid to close the school. Pinnacle again says it will fight in court.
Students at Pinnacle aren’t getting a great education. Even allowing for improvements, it lags in other areas, as Bennett observed. There is no great academic reason to rally around Pinnacle.
It’s the unnecessary level of disruption that is the problem here. The state should rethink this decision.