Kestrel Heights parent Rae Hope was “shocked” when she learned the charter school had given diplomas to students who had not taken all the required courses.
She is concerned that it took a new administration to notice the problem and about her friends’ children who have graduated.
But she doesn’t want the charter school’s high school shut down.
“If they shut down the high school, I have to look for a replacement school for a 10th grader,” she said. “There is nothing more challenging for a student to go to a brand new school as a rising 11th- or 12th-grader. That’s very challenging. It’s almost like moving to another state.”
Hope, 49 of Durham, was one of dozens of parents who attended a Kestrel Heights community meeting Wednesday pledging to fight to keep the high school open despite a state advisory board’s recomendation to shut it down.
The state Charter Schools Advisory Board recommended that the K-12 school shut down its high school this summer during a meeting last week. The school’s charter expires this year, and it was being considered for a 10-year renewal. Kestrel officials reported a discovery that about 40 percent of their 399 graduates from 2008 to 2016 hadn’t received the required credits. The missing courses included math, English, American history and physical education.
In light of that information, the advisory board recommended the high school be shut down, while the rest of the school receive a three-year renewal and meet other conditions. The recommendations now go to a vote of the State Board of Education, which plans to discuss and possibly vote on the recommendation at its board meeting Feb. 1-2. The board typically discusses issues at its first meetings and votes on them at its second.
Brandon Paris, Kestrel’s board president, and others said they will fight to keep the high school open. The board is working on a response to the recommendations, but doesn’t know when it will be completed or released to the public.
The problems occurred during the tenures of two principals and a guidance counselor who no longer work at the school, according to a Kestrel report.
At the community meeting, Kestrel officials collected written questions from the audience and then read and answered them. They reassured the audience of parents and students that that they had taken steps to correct the issues, and that other grades will not be affected. Those actions included checking current transcripts multiple times, and meeting with high school students about classes more often.
At the end of the day, it was our responsibility.
Mark Tracy, executive director
The questions included:
▪ Whether others, including state officials, should share the blame for the diploma issue? Kestrel attorney Stephon Bowens said “all of us have some responsibility in this issue” but ultimately it was Kestrel’s obligation to ensure that all of the students gathered their credits.
“At the end of the day, it was our responsibility,” said Kestrel Executive Director Mark Tracy.
▪ Will the negative publicity affect current students’ ability to be accepted into college?
Upper School Principal April Goff couldn’t say how colleges would receive the information, but they will likely audit the students’ transcripts. Current student transcripts have been reviewed at least five times, and the diplomas will be valid, she said.
▪ How is the school addressing students with incomplete credits?
School officials said they are searching for those students and offering them opportunities to take courses online, through an independent study and receive related tutoring at the school if they need it. Some students are getting credit for completed college courses.
Tracy said he would need to do research on how many students have left the school because of the diploma issue. The school has about 350 high school students and about 1,020 students total.
Despite the issues, many parents pushed for the high school to stay open.
Wanda St. Clair, whose 15-year-old daughter attends the school, called the Charter Schools Advisory Board recommendation “harsh.”
Toni Monroe-Jenkins, who has a seventh- and ninth-grader at the school, said she was upset when she heard the news about the diplomas, but she really likes the school and appreciates the teachers and their communication about her children.
“I am committed to Kestrel,” Monroe-Jenkins said.