Charter school on brink gets extension

Staff WriterMarch 5, 2009 

Torchlight Academy, a minority charter school in Raleigh that faced closure, may stay open after all.

A committee of the State Board of Education on Wednesday recommended extending Torchlight's charter for another two years. The full board is expected to vote today on the recommendation, which comes with several conditions for audits and a restructuring plan to be prepared by the school. If the state's charter school office rejects Torchlight's restructuring plan, the school could still lose its charter.

Earlier this year, the state office had recommended that the board let Torchlight's charter expire in June because of low test scores and audit problems.

If the charter expires, parents of 360 students would have to find new schools for their children.

To save the school, Torchlight officials have been working on improvement plans and public relations during the last few months.

Don McQueen, the school's executive director, opened a box of "Save Torchlight Academy" buttons the day before the committee vote. About 15 parents attended the Wednesday meeting wearing the buttons.

School representatives also spoke with members of the Legislative Black Caucus. They complained about poor communication with the state office and a lack of help from state advisers when poor test scores led to a "low performing" label for the school.

"I don't think the process has been followed that should have been followed," said Rep. Beverly Earle, a Charlotte Democrat and a black caucus member.

Charter schools that seek to enroll low-income students "do as good a job if not better" as traditional public schools, she said.

Parents who rallied to save the school said they like its atmosphere and appreciate the personal attention given their children.

"They don't have crowded rooms," said Yaquelin Milla, the mother of a 7-year-old son, Juan, who attends the school.

In an interview before the committee vote, Milla said she saw a great improvement in Juan after he left a traditional Wake County school and started at Torchlight.

Milla said she would not want to send Juan back to a traditional public school.

"I really, really would be worried," she said.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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