Charter schools dominate discussion at Baltimore City School Board meeting
Charter School renewal was the hottest item at last night’s Baltimore City school board meeting.
The topic generated more than an hour of debate, impassioned pleas and even a song.
Only one school -- Dr. Rayner Browne -- would not be issued a renewal under schools CEO Andres Alonso’s recommendation. Six schools -- City Springs, Collington Square, Coppin Academy, Baltimore International Academy, Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy, and Inner Harbor East Academy For Young Scholars -- would be given two-year extensions.
Three schools -- Wolfe Street Academy, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, and Independence -- received the highest recommendation of a five-year contract.
Rayner Browne did not receive a recommendation for renewal because the school saw test scores in all student subgroups decrease for mathematics the last two years. In reading, three of the four student subgroups experienced drops in test scores.
If the board follows Alonso’s recommendation and votes not to renew its contract, Rayner Browne will be in danger of closing or returning to a traditional or city school status.
Schools were judged on success of students, fiscal soundness and governess, compliance, being an effective, viable organization, and a mix of quantitative and qualitative data.
Students, staff, and parents from a number of schools addressed the board, making individual pleas to keep their school open as was the case with Rayner Browne -- or increasing to a five-year contract as was the case with City Springs. A group of students from that school went as far as singing a spoof of Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” to illustrate all the good things happening at their school. Several board members appeared to question the recommendations.
Board member David Stone said that the renewal process needs to be re-examined.
“A three-year contract is not significant enough time to make a decision about the school,” Stone said.
Stone said that the process involved in renewal takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the school staff.
“By the time we're done, parents and staff are battle-weary,” he said.
Board member Jerrelle Francois asked how long it takes to turn around a school.
“Can we wait two years?” she asked.
“We have to show immediately that change has taken place,” she said.
Board member George VanHook challenged other board members and staff to visit the schools in question.
“I’m troubled by the fact that one school is revoked,” VanHook said. “We don’t know what is going on if we don’t go to these schools. I have to see it for myself. There is no way you can understand the culture of the school. We need to do what we have to do to make an informed decision about the rest of these schools.”
VanHook said that charter schools serve as community centers.
“Each of these schools is engaged in an intimate process with our children,” VanHook said.
VanHook’s comments prompted Alonso to clarify that the recommendations were his, and were made after careful, extensive research.
“The recommendation to the board is mine,” he said. “It is important that the public understands where I am coming from.”
Alonso said that the standards for the school system have changed in the past couple of years.
“This is not the same school system where charters originated several years ago,” he said. “I am a huge supporter of charters. [But] I believe in accountability for all schools.”
“If you are moving backwards, you do not get a renewal,” he said.