City recommends severing ties with operators of six schools

Baltimore school officials recommended Thursday severing ties with independent operators of six schools after a months-long review of more than two dozen diverse programs.

In a presentation to city school board members, district officials recommended granting three-and five-year contract extensions to all but three of the 18 charter schools seeking renewal: Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy Middle School, Baltimore Freedom Academy and Collington Square Elementary/Middle School.

Bluford and Baltimore Freedom Academy would stay open for current students until the end of 2013-2014, admitting no new middle and high school students as officials weigh whether the schools would close altogether at the end of that year. Collington Square, however, would revert to a district-run school.

The district will also seek to take back operations of Montebello Elementary/Middle School, considered a "contract school," from the national, for-profit organization Edison Learning.

Officials recommended not renewing the contract of one "transformation school," Baltimore Civitas Middle/High School, and one "innovation school," the Baltimore Talent Development High School — both of which are run by the Center for Social Organization of Schools at the Johns Hopkins University. Transformation schools serve children in grades six through 12; innovation schools are small high schools operated by nonprofits.

"This is an excruciating process for schools, and we have partners who have dedicated their lives to these schools," said Alison Perkins-Cohen, who oversees the district's office of new initiatives.

But Perkins-Cohen, as well as charter leaders, praised what they called the most rigorous evaluations of the district's nontraditional programs to date.

Of the 25 schools that sought renewal, nine received five-year contract extensions; seven received three-year extensions; and three received one-year extensions as the system awaits more data.

The recommendations were made by a charter school advisory board, which included district officials and representatives of various entities across the city. The city school board is scheduled to vote on the recommendations Feb. 12; a public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 30.

Schools were graded in three areas: academic performance, climate, and financial management and governance.

"We believe the renewal process is essential to charter accountability and that the recommendations demonstrate that the vast majority of charter schools are successfully fulfilling their individual missions and effectively educating students," the Coalition of Baltimore Charter Schools said in a statement.

The recommendations were met with a mixed reaction from school board members, who said they wanted to see more consistency in the information used to evaluate schools.

For example, district officials chose to renew the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School for three years but noted that poor, black students lag significantly behind white students — a factor not noted in other presentations.

"It's almost like those other schools get a free pass on that data point," said city school board Commissioner David Stone.

One board member also had reservations about schools that were granted five-year contracts.

"It's extremely important that they understand that they don't have five years to do what they want and that we still want to see improvement," said city school board Commissioner Jerrelle Francois. "Five years is a long time in the life of a child."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad