Five charters put on warning list, face potential shut-down

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Five charter schools, including one run by the scandal-ridden UNO and another that took in more than 50 students from closed West Side schools, have a year to improve or face being shut down.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced Wednesday that UNO- Tamayo, Catalyst-Howland, Catalyst-Circle Rock, Chicago International Charter-Longwood and EPIC Academy are all on the warning list for this year. About 3,000 students attend these schools.  

The schools’ staff will have to craft a remediation plan and, if the schools don’t make reasonable progress by next September, the district will start the process of revoking their contract–effectively closing them down in June of 2015.

“I have said that I don’t care about the governance of a school, I care about whether it is producing quality,” Byrd-Bennett said.

But the announcement also underscored the danger of a system with many low-achieving schools combined with a wide array of options: Parents might enroll their children in poorly-performing schools that shut down, sending them repeatedly on the hunt for new choices.

Some of the charters took in significant numbers of students from shuttered schools this fall. When Paderewski closed in June, CPS designated Cardenas and Castellanos as welcoming schools. But only 40 percent of the students went to  Cardenas and Castellanos. One group—26 students of 150–ended up at Catalyst-Howland.

Another 25 students from other closed schools went to Catalyst-Howland. Catalyst-Circle Rock and CICS-Longwood each also attracted about 10 students from closed schools.

Catalyst-Howland is the only school that remained on the warning list for the second year in a row. With only 26.6 percent of students meeting standards on the ISAT, it is among the 20 worst schools in the district, according to the CPS performance policy.

Having already received notice from CPS that the Catalyst schools were on the warning list, the charter operator brought out some parents to the October board meeting, including Linda Kapers, whose son just transferred from Paderewski.

“My son is in 6th grade and already he is talking about De La Salle,” she says. “I think Howland is a great school.”

CEO Gordon Hannon told board members that, while he and his staff are working on improving test scores, the schools do a good job of getting their 8th graders to graduate from high school. He said the North Lawndale and Austin areas have graduation rates below 50 percent.

“In these communities we deliver a graduation rate of 99 percent,” he said.

(Catalyst charter schools have no connection to Catalyst Chicago.)

Byrd-Bennett acknowledged that many of students from the closed schools went to Howland and said that was one reason it was important to hold the school to a high standard.

CPS Chief of Innovation and Incubation Jack Elsey said he knows that the staff are trying to improve the schools and he is hopeful they will be able to stay open.

This is the second year that CPS issued a warning list for charter schools. Last year, in the heat of the process that resulted in the closure of 49 elementary schools, Byrd-Bennett announced that low-performing charters were in danger, just as district-run schools.

Two charter schools– Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School, run by ASPIRA, and DuSable Leadership Academy, run by Betty Shabazz International Charter School—did not have their contract renewed and they were told they would be phased out. This was first time that CPS forced charter schools to close for low academic performance.

Also, this year, the leadership of Henry Ford Charter School and Chicago Talent Development High School decided to phase the schools out as they struggled to attract students, improve performance and remain financially healthy.

Before that, only two have closed since 2005. 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.