Wake Ed

Raleigh charter school in danger of being shut down by state

Children at Hope Charter Leadership Academy in downtown Raleigh read books from Bonnieaaaòs Book Foundation.
Children at Hope Charter Leadership Academy in downtown Raleigh read books from Bonnieaaaòs Book Foundation.

A high-poverty Raleigh charter school is in danger of being ordered to shut down by the state at the end of the school year due to its low test scores and lack of academic growth among its students.

The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board voted Thursday to require the leadership of Hope Charter Leadership Academy to show up at the group’s November meeting with a comprehensive plan to improve academic performance. The vote came after advisory board members decided to hold off on recommending that the State Board of Education take away Hope’s charter at the end of the school year.

Last school year, Hope’s passing rate on state exams was 26.5 percent, the school didn’t meet growth and it received a “F” school performance grade. Fifth-grade state exam passing rates of 10.5 percent in reading and 5.3 percent in math were called unacceptable.

“These scores are horrible,” said advisory board member Steven Walker as he repeatedly banged his hand on the table. “You’re talking about one kid in 5th-grade passing math, one kid.”

Charter schools are taxpayer funded public schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. There are 167 charter schools open in North Carolina this school year.

Hope is an almost all-minority school serving 123 students at a location near downtown Raleigh. More than 99 percent of Hope’s students qualify as economically disadvantaged.

The tone on Thursday was less upbeat than in December, when Hope showed up at the advisory board seeking a renewal recommendation on its charter. Despite low test scores, advisory board members at the December meeting praised the direction the school seemed to be going.

With Hope’s charter set to expire after June 2016, the State Board accepted the advisory board’s recommendation to give a three-year renewal. But the renewal came with a stipulation that Hope had to meet annual growth targets on state exams.

When Hope fell short of meeting growth on the 2015-16 exams, it found itself back before the advisory board on Thursday.

Hope’s leaders said they had expected the scores to be better so they were surprised by the final results. School leaders also cited issues finding quality staff, leading to changes such as increased pay for teachers.

Walt Sherlin, chairman of Hope’s board, said the school isn’t happy with the test scores but believes it’s heading in the right way now. He said he believes students are better off being at Hope than in the Wake County school system.

“We believe that there are a lot of good things going on at Hope,” said Sherlin, a retired Wake County associate superintendent. “It’s a warm, caring environment for kids.”

Some advisory board members charged that Hope didn’t show anything Thursday that leads them to think they could turn things around. Eric Sanchez, an advisory board member, said Hope’s leadership didn’t present a plan Thursday that showed any detail, depth or credibility.

“I didn’t hear a plan,” Sanchez said. “This is D-Day right, You come with the big PowerPoints, You come with the big stuff.

“You come ready to go. Your school is on the line. Everything is on the line.”

Walker said it had been a mistake for him in December to recommend renewing Hope’s charter. He said the students aren’t getting an education there, noting how Hope’s economically disadvantaged and special-education students perform much lower than peers in the Wake County school system.

“This isn’t like we’re giving a second chance,” Walker said. “We’re getting to about chance number four right here. I just don’t know how much longer we’re going to have that continue on in that way.”

Walker made a motion to recommend revoking Hope’s charter. After concerns were raised about how nearly half the advisory board wasn’t present Thursday, Walker made a substitute motion to give Hope a chance to come back with a new plan for the Nov. 15 meeting.

Board members said if they’re not satisfied next month with Hope’s new plan they can still begin the process of recommending revocation.