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City school board denies all charter applications for upcoming school year

A former version of this post incorrectly stated that the deadline to apply for a charter school was Feb. 17. That is the date for students to apply to attend charter schools, not the date for organizations to apply to open charter schools. The Sun regrets this error.

Six charter applicants seeking to open schools in Baltimore city in school years 2012 and 2013 were all denied Tuesday, after the city school board voted to affirm city schools CEO Andres Alonso's decision that the plans for the new schools were insufficient or failed to present a compelling reason to obtain charter status.

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The school proposals, which can be viewed here, were presented to the school board on Oct. 11, with organizations making their pitch to offer a variety of programs next school year--including the first all-female elementary school for girls, a new STEM Academy, and a college-preparatory school with an arts curriculum--and a military academy in 2013. Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School failed in its second attempt to convince Alonso and the board that converting to charter status would improve the school's ability to raise achievement.

A seventh school, Green Street Academy, which currently operates as a transformation school (6-12 school with specialized curriculum) withdrew its application to convert to a charter next year.

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Alonso said that he made his recommendations based on the recommendations he received from  the district's Charter Schools Advisory Board. The board did not recommend any of the schools for approval, Alonso said.

The sweeping denials was a stark contrast to recent years when charters sprouted up in the district at a rapid pace. Currently, there are 33 charters operating in the city, the most of any district in the state, and that majority of which have opened during Alonso's administration. The schools chief's vision has always been an expanding school portfolio, which is now bursting at the seams, and says that charters remain "engines of reform," in the district.

Alonso said "there were good ideas, a lot of commitment" in this round of applications, but the ability to execute key elements of running a quality school fell short.

"I want to see strong charter applications, so I can approve more charters," Alonso said. "But my vision has been to see great schools, and I want charters to support [that vision.]

In the board presentation Tuesday, charter officials cited a host of reasons for the denials, such as "passionate but not coherent" plans, and an inability of schools to demonstrate an ability to implement curriculum, fund a sufficient budget, secure facilities, and garner enough community support for their schools.

City school board president Neil Duke told applicants that while the justifications focused on the shortcomings of their applications, there was "a lot of good, and a lot to like about the applications."

"We appreciate the interest--but this is a rigorous process," Duke said.

Other board members echoed his sentiments, encouraging the applicants to return next year.

"I think what this reflects is that reform in urban education is a very steep challenge," said city school board Commissioner Lisa Akchin, adding that the standards continue to rise.

"I hope [the applicants] receive help in aligning with what those standards are," she said. 

Organizations hoping to open charters in the district next year said that while they were disappointed, they looked forward to applying in the next round.

"We're definitely coming back, and we're going to take the criticisms and strengthen our application," said Latrill Bass, who led the effort to open the Barbara Jordan Academy, which would have been the first all-female elementary school.

"We want to provide an elementary school that has not been done in Baltimore," Bass said. "We want to grow young female leaders from a young age, who can go on to Western and Spelman. We believe we can do that."

I will ask the district Wednesday if the explanations for denials are available in electronic form are available and link to them from this post. 

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