Two charter campuses could close

February 21, 2013

UPDATED--CPS has announced that it plans to close two charter high school campuses. In November, the district had promised to get tough on charters, perhaps because of the number of neighborhood schools officials plan to close.

The school board will make an official decision on the fate of Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School, run by ASPIRA, and DuSable Leadership Academy, run by Betty Shabazz International Charter School, at its Wednesday meeting. Both schools are affiliated with community organizations that have deep roots in Chicago.

Due to poor performance, the district also plans to put other campuses run by those schools on a shorter leash, requiring them to meet annual academic benchmarks that have not yet been determined. Those schools comprise ASPIRA’s Haugan Middle School, Antonia Pantoja High School, and Early College High School, as well as Betty Shabazz International Charter School and the school’s Barbara A. Sizemore Academy. (This is the second year that some charter schools have had their contracts renewed for shorter periods of time.)

Ten other charter operators will also have their contracts renewed – two for 3 years, and the rest for 5 years. In addition to the two campuses that are being recommended for closure, six of the 27 schools run by those 12 operators are level 3 schools--the worst possible rating by CPS. Six were Level 1 schools, the best possible. Eight were not given performance ratings.

Less than a handful of charter schools have been closed by CPS. Only two have closed in the past 6 years. Choir Academy decided to shut itself down for financial and performance issues. ACT Charter’s board of directors was pressured to close the low-scoring school, but the school’s charter remained active and was given to KIPP to open a junior high school this year.

District officials announced their recommendations for charter renewals at 5 p.m. Thursday. At the same time, a public hearing on charter renewals was starting. About 45 minutes before the hearing began, the principal at DuSable Leadership Academy said that she was not aware of the district’s recommendation to close the school.

The hearing was attended by about 150 people and 72 people signed up to speak. Among them were the leaders of Shabazz and Aspira. Both argued that, although test scores are low, they do well in other areas. The Aspira official said that 93 percent of their students are accepted into college. 

Carol Lee, who founded Shabazz, said the network runs award-winning schools that have good attendance, low drop out rates and good acceptance into colleges.

Fernando Grillo, chair of the board of ASPIRA of Illinois, said Thursday night that "we certainly understand the challenges we have (and) we are committed to accountability."

He also said that in the last year the entire ASPIRA organization has been "on a self-imposed turnaround" with a new board and new staff in its corporate offices as well as at the schools. "We are holding ourselves to much higher standards," Grillo said.

Last March, the organization's board fired CEO Jose Rodriguez, likely due to the poor performance.

CPS said in a press release that it reviewed charter operators’ records in terms of contract compliance, charter governance, fiscal management, academic growth, test scores and parent input.

Some charters get shorter renewals

The two charter schools that are being renewed for just 3 years are ACE Tech and Community Services West Charter School.

Last year, ACE Tech had a 1-year contract but the district says it “is showing early signs of performance progress.” Community Services West “is moving to restructure its organization to better serve a distinct alternative student population,” the district noted. In recent years, several charter schools have undergone restructuring or "turnaround" in an effort to boost performance.