Home Career Chicago school board approves charter extension – for shorter term

Chicago school board approves charter extension – for shorter term

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Eighteen Chicago charter schools and chains have received the school board’s blessing to continue operating beyond this school year, but in many cases for relatively short stretches.

This process reflects ongoing changes in the district’s relationship with its charters. Until this year, the vast majority of these schools were reliably extended for five years, in some cases for more than two decades. But at Wednesday’s school board meeting, most received much shorter contracts. Almost half received only two years, and only two schools received the full five years.

In recent years, the district has delayed opening new charter schools amid steep enrollment declines and turned to short-term charter extensions with certain conditions. Some charter operators say the shorter extensions create uncertainty for their school communities, some of which serve mostly low-income and other vulnerable students.

At Wednesday’s meeting, more than a dozen charter administrators, parents and students asked for longer terms. Christian Fiman of the Illinois Charter School Network denounced the short-term extensions as disruptive and said the advocacy group is pushing for 10-year terms for high-performing charters.

“We remain concerned about the lack of consistency and transparency in the renewal process that is driving the bar,” he said, adding: “Renewal timelines of less than five years put the stability of our schools at risk.”

But district officials said the shorter-term extensions reflect an effort to make charters more accountable. The district carefully examined how the charters serve students with disabilities and English language learners, and how they ensure that discipline practices in those schools do not harm students.

The extension, approved at the board’s monthly meeting Wednesday, mainly included conditions — a list of student outcomes and other requirements that schools must meet during the extension period. These terms and conditions were not included in the public meeting documents of the board of directors, but instead will be given directly to the charter operators.

Charter leaders and advocates are asking for a longer extension

The charter of one school, Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy, a small alternative high school on the city’s southwest side, was extended for only one year.

Many on the renewal list were allowed to continue working for another two years. Those schools are: North Lawndale Charter Prep, Alain Locke Charter School, Little Black Pearl, Plato Learning Academy, Passages, Horizon Science Academy Southwest and Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy. Acero, Chicago Collegiate Charter School, Intrinsic, Christopher House and the University of Chicago Charter School have all received three-year extensions.

Two alternative campuses operated by Camelot Schools — Chicago Excel Academy and Camelot’s SAFE Achieve Academy, for students who have been expelled — along with Hope Learning Academy were extended by four years. Excel Academy in Englewood and Chicago Technical Academy High School received five-year extensions.

It was the first time the Acer, Allen Locke and University of Chicago charter schools have not been renewed for five years since they opened in 1998.

Employees and supporters of the charters that plan to renew turned out in droves on Wednesday to argue that they should get a longer term.

Administrators at the University of Chicago Charter School said it has addressed discipline issues amid the pandemic by hiring more social workers and training all staff in restorative justice practices, among other steps. They talked about the school’s efforts to organize more internships for students and send teenagers to college.

Nikita Johnson-White, CFO of Passages, read a letter from an eighth-grader who raved about the school and said that with a new principal at the helm, the school is working to improve services for students with disabilities and beyond. But she said a two-year school extension would not allow enough time for progress to be made, and urged the board to give at least three years.

Anya Hill, a senior at North Lawndale College Prep, credits the school with helping her transform from a shy freshman to a confident school leader Warriors of Peace Student Violence Prevention Group.. She said she was accepted to 20 colleges, a reflection of the Charter college culture.

Hill joined parents and school leaders in arguing for a longer extension. Jemia Cunningham-Elder, the school’s CEO, said she has been working to address issues the district has identified in services for students with disabilities and school discipline since she was hired in September. But she said she needed more time.

“We’ve provided 25 years of stability,” said Bruce Miller, board member of North Lawndale College Prep. “If you can give us five years of stability, that would be fantastic.”

District officials tout thorough statutory assessments

Feeman, of the Illinois Charter School Network, said the district needs clearer and more transparent criteria for renewal. A two- or three-year extension means too much of administrators’ energy is spent on the significant red tape involved in seeking an extension instead of making real improvements for students, he said.

But district officials insisted that their expectations were clear and communicated to the charter operators in advance.

“Our renewal process is evidence-based, consistent with national best practices, and continuous,” said Zabrina Evans, director of quality and school support for the Office of Innovation and Incubation.

A five-year extension is the standard for schools that meet standards in three areas: science, finance and operations. During operations, district officials pay extra attention to how well the charter school serves students with disabilities and English language learners and whether it uses school discipline appropriately.

The county said the Office of Innovation and Incubation conducted a comprehensive evaluation of charters requiring renewal. Office staff visited all campuses, in some cases conducting special site visits, to better identify services for students with disabilities and school climate.

Passages, for example, are substandard in financial performance and operations due to concerns about services for students with abilities and English language learners. North Lawndale College Prep also failed to meet those standards, failing to serve students with disabilities and over-disciplining students, according to the district.

Instituto Leadership failed in all three categories and faces closure if it fails to meet next year’s improvement targets. Officials said the recently launched Options School Network to oversee the district’s alternative high schools will provide support to the school in the coming months.

Officials said an extension of more than five years is an option for charters that exceed standards in all three categories.

But board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said that even for schools that exceed standards, she would strongly oppose extensions beyond five years. She said the district embraced charter schools with the idea that they could outperform traditional district schools. She said that especially at a time when enrollment is declining and budget cuts are likely, the decade will re-evaluate their results.

“Tonight’s presentation was very sobering to see school after school after school that are not far superior to our traditional CPS schools,” she said.

At the beginning of this winter, the board was also taken the rare step of repealing the statute for the once-vaunted Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, which serves black boys and is taking over two of its campuses on the South Side. The district cited the school’s financial struggles and the inspector general’s investigation into sexual misconduct by the school’s founder, Tim King, whose findings it has strongly denied.

The board also approved a new accountability policy for charter and district alternative high schools, known in Chicago as schools of choice. The policy is temporary, valid only for the current school year. It’s meant to reinvigorate the district while it works to develop a new accountability system for all schools, which is set to take effect in the 2024-25 school year.

Alternative schools in the city have been subject to their own accountability ratings in recognition of the high-needs students they serve — former dropouts or students at risk of dropping out, in some cases because their academics have been derailed by parenthood, homelessness or the criminal justice system. justice attraction.

The new policy says the district will measure academic performance for each school based on metrics such as graduation rates, increased attendance, growth in the district’s STAR score and more. Schools that do not score high enough could face mandatory improvement plans and denial of charter renewal if they fail to meet those plans.

District officials said Wednesday in a statement to Chalkbeat that the district wants a strong accountability policy for alternative high schools because they serve the district’s most vulnerable students.

The district, which led a massive expansion of alternative high schools in the 2010s, suffered significant enrollment losses at those campuses during the disruption of the pandemic. It also took some moves to curb transfers to alternative schools, raising the bar for traditional high schools that send students to these campuses. The new Options Schools Network will continue a recent trend of closer oversight and expansion of some district programs to those campuses.

“For schools serving some of our most vulnerable students, we are committed to providing the support they need,” Todd-Breland said.

Mila Kumpilova is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Mila at mkoumpilova@chalkbeat.org.

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