High school students at a Durham charter school will be looking for new schools next year if recommendations from a state advisory board go into effect.
As penalty for Kestrel Heights charter school giving diplomas to graduates who had not taken required state courses, the state Charter Schools Advisory Board is recommending that the K-12 school shut down its high school this summer.
The advisory board is made up of charter school advocates and many run their own schools. Some said the problems at Kestrel Heights were an embarrassment for charters.
The school’s charter expires this year, and it was being considered for a 10-year renewal. Instead, the advisory board is recommending the school receive a three-year renewal and meet other conditions. The recommendations now go to a vote of the State Board of Education.
It’s not certain that the school will accept the conditions. Kestrel Executive Director Mark Tracy said the board of directors needs to talk about them.
Kestrel’s high school has 307 students, 73 of them seniors.
The other option the advisory board considered was recommending the state school board find a new group to run Kestrel, advisory board Chairman Alex Quigley said.
Advisory board members said they were giving Kestrel credit for self-reporting the diploma problems. Kestrel leaders told the state last year that some students had graduated without completing courses the state requires.
The school’s latest review of graduates’ credits from 2008 to 2016 found that 40 percent had received diplomas without taking all the courses required. The missing courses ranged from English and math to American history and physical education.
Even counting the unearned diplomas, the school had a four-year graduation rate of 73 percent, lower than the rate for Durham County high schools and lower than the state rate of 85.8 percent.
If Kestrel hadn’t disclosed the problems itself, it would have been easy to recommend shutting it down, said Joseph Maimone, a board member and headmaster at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, which has a high school in Cleveland County.
The recommendations are meant to send a message to charter and traditional high schools that administrators should not manipulate transcripts, he said.
“For the sake of the many charter high schools around the state, of which we are one, this cannot go without serious punishment,” Maimone said. “This group has shown they can’t perform high school well, and they do not deserve to run a high school program.”
The diploma problems occurred during the tenures of two principals and a guidance counselor who no longer work at the school, according to Kestrel’s report.
Advisory board members considered whether they could safeguard against schools giving students diplomas they didn’t earn.
Quigley said the board could come up with some recommendations for increased oversight.
The problems at Kestrel stem from “systemic negligence,” said Eric Sanchez, an advisory board member and executive director of Henderson Collegiate in Vance County. He noted that Kestrel’s new administration has tried to “clean up this mess,” but that the people who allowed students to graduate without the proper credits would likely not be held fully accountable.