‘Change is hard.’ Raleigh charter school voluntarily closing due to academic performance

Hope Charter Leadership Academy to close in 2019

Despite major gains in test scores two years ago, Hope Charter Leadership Academy in Raleigh, NC will close at the end of the school year.
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Despite major gains in test scores two years ago, Hope Charter Leadership Academy in Raleigh, NC will close at the end of the school year.

A long-running charter school near downtown Raleigh that has seen ups and downs in its test scores plans to close in June.

Hope Charter Leadership Academy’s board of directors voted on Nov. 28 to relinquish the school’s charter at the end of the school year and to enter into an agreement that would give its students priority to get into PAVE Southeast Raleigh Charter School. Hope is closing because of “the school’s inability to meet satisfactory student performance goals,” according to state documents.

The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board will discuss Wednesday the request from PAVE to give application priority to Hope students who apply to attend next school year. Hope has around 125 students.

“It’s a very warm place,” said Walt Sherlin, chairman of Hope’s board of directors. “That’s one of the positive things with being a small school. But we’ve had problems with academic performance.”

Hope was a private religious school for at-risk students run by Building Together Ministries when it was approved in 2001 by the State Board of Education to become a charter school.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. But due to the high percentage of low-income students at the school, Hope has provided meals and bus service to its campus on Blount Street in the Mordecai neighborhood.

There are 185 charter schools open statewide this school year, with 15 more approved to open in 2019. But in addition to Hope closing at the end of the school year, the State Board of Education revoked the charter for Global Achievers School in Rocky Mount.

Charter schools are one option in the growing "school choice" movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws. Find out what sets them apart.

Hope got national publicity in 2007 when ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” television show made improvements to the school building.

But throughout much of Hope’s history, it’s been a challenge academically.

In 2016, the Charter Schools Advisory Board talked about shutting Hope down unless it dramatically improved its academic performance. The threat helped spur changes that last year resulted in big gains that caused Hope’s school performance grade to rise from an F to a C.

But the gains were short-lived. For the 2017-18 school year, Hope’s letter grade dropped back to an F and students didn’t meet growth expectations on state exams. Sherlin said they thought that they had solved a lot of things but wound up with a very bad academic year.

With the charter expiring June 30, Sherlin said that instead of applying for renewal, Hope’s board decided to enter into an agreement with PAVE. Sherlin said Hope’s board believes that its students will do better with the additional academic opportunities available at a larger school like PAVE, which has 380 students.

PAVE Southeast Raleigh Charter gets the green light to expand next year.

PAVE is located about six miles from Hope on Idlewood Village Drive. Like Hope, both serve a large number of students from Southeast Raleigh.

Sherlin said Hope’s staff was notified last week about the decision to close. He said a letter was mailed to parents with a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night so families can discuss concerns.

It’s not immediately clear how many Hope students can get into PAVE. If the agreement is approved by the state, only siblings of current PAVE students and children of PAVE staff would have higher admissions priority.

Even if students don’t get accepted into PAVE, Sherlin said there are other opportunities such as charter schools and schools in the Wake County school system.

In the meantime, Sherlin said Hope is committed to making the rest of the school year as successful as possible.

“We want to make it as positive as possible,” Sherlin said. “Change is hard and change is difficult. Change is sometimes good.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.