For every open seat it has next year, Patterson Park Public Charter School fielded six applications.
The highly sought-after school in Southeast Baltimore is asking the district’s Board of School Commissioners to allow it to open a second location so it can serve more students. Leaders say a replication of Patterson Park Public is uniquely situated to serve kids from immigrant families, a demographic that’s rapidly growing despite an overall decline in Baltimore’s public school enrollment.
They want to open Clay Hill Public Charter in the Bayview neighborhood in 2020, with a goal of eventually enrolling 540 more kids between kindergarten and eighth grade and exposing them to hands-on instruction that integrates the arts and nature.
Patterson Park Public, among the top-rated schools in the city, enrolls 725 students, and about one in five are designated as English learners.
“In the Southeast, we see a growth area. We see a growth area for serving our students coming from immigrant families,” said Principal Chad Kramer. “We see the opportunity to be able to create more seats and keep more students within Baltimore City Public Schools.”
Every year, the school board considers applications from charter operators hoping to open new programs. In addition to Patterson Park Public’s pitch, Green Street Academy is asking to open an elementary school, allowing it to become the only K-12 program in the city.
The board will vote June 11 on whether to allow the two schools to move forward.
Last year, the commissioners voted to approve just one out of six charter school applications. Their decision prompted outrage from the rejected operators, who say the district has created a challenging climate for charters. About 20 percent of the city’s roughly 80,000 students attend one of 31 charters, which are publicly funded campuses given more autonomy than traditional public schools.
A group of charter operators and the district are also locked in a stalemate stemming from a 2015 lawsuit alleging the school system has failed to meet contractual obligations to charters and has not been transparent or consistent in the way it funds them.
The last few years have been hard on charter schools’ budgets. The 2018-2019 operating budget included a $5.5 million cut spread across these schools.
This year, the amount of money for charters is increasing: $9,108 per student enrolled, compared to $9,017 in the 2018-2019 budget. It’s a welcome relief, operators say, though not one that makes up for years of cuts that hurt traditional and charter schools.
While some schools are hoping to open, the board will revoke the charters from four schools at the end of this academic year, forcing the programs to shut down. The district cited a variety of reasons for closing the schools, including poor academic performance and problems with special education compliance.
Despite the challenges, Kramer said his school is “feeling pretty good” about its chances come Tuesday.
At a recent work session, commissioners pressed Patterson Park Public officials on their plan to replicate their school, which recently was awarded four out of five stars in the state’s ranking system.
One asked what they would do to narrow the achievement gap that’s apparent at their first school.
White students there perform much better on standardized tests than black or Latino students, state data shows. While this pattern is present across the school district and the country, district officials have been zeroing-in on the staggering achievement gaps at some public charters, and demanding change.
In an updated rubric used to determine whether a school’s charter should be renewed, the district plans to more heavily factor in how the program is educating children across all racial groups.
Patterson Park Public’s leadership says they take this disparity seriously, and are working to eliminate it.
When it was Green Street Academy’s chance to present to the board, chair Cheryl Casciani asked why they wanted to expand their grade offerings. Right now, the school serves about 850 kids in sixth through 12th grades. They want to add 300 elementary seats.
“You’ve really nailed the middle and high school thing,” Casciani said. “This is a completely different beast. We love our little kids, but they’re different from middle school kids.”
Green Street leaders said they want to shape kids’ futures prior to middle school. The school is based in West Baltimore, and leaders there say opening up an elementary school could help them identify students’ challenges earlier on and be proactive in helping steer them toward college or a career.
“We’ve built a very family-friendly culture,” said Larry Rivitz, one of the school’s founders. “We have families who come to us knowing full well we start at sixth and ask us to push down to include their younger children in the culture. They’ve seen what we’ve done in pushing children out to college and career.”