Faced with dismal test scores, dwindling enrollment and leadership churn, a state panel decided Wednesday that Community Charter School should close next fall after 20 years in Charlotte.
The Charter School Advisory Board’s decision isn’t final; that falls to the North Carolina Board of Education next month. And the advisory board opened the door to the possibility that one of the state’s oldest charter schools could pioneer a new option that allows another charter school to step in and take over.
Details of how that might work remained fuzzy Thursday, as the school’s board notified staff and students of the possible closing after this school year.
Current leaders don’t deny that the small elementary school in Charlotte’s Cherry neighborhood had fallen into bad shape. But they say they had hoped for another year to turn it around.
Community Charter has only 82 students this year, about half full. It earned an F from the state, based on proficiency rates of 36 percent in reading and 22 percent in math last year, with growth not strong enough to offset the low pass rate.
Kathryn Greene, a former board member who returned this spring in hopes of reviving the school, said many of the students are transient and disadvantaged, but that’s no excuse for the failure.
“We should have been addressing it long before this year but weren’t,” she said Thursday.
The advisory board’s vote not to renew Community’s charter continues a trend of cracking down on low-performing schools, even as the state continues to authorize new charter schools. Earlier this year the state stopped funding to Kennedy and Crossroads, two longstanding Charlotte charter schools with low test scores and other challenges.
I came back and saw what a mess it was here.
Kathryn Greene, former Community Charter board member who returned this spring
Community Charter School opened in 1997, when North Carolina first authorized the independent public schools run by nonprofit boards. But despite the long history, the school was undermined by changes in school leadership and the surrounding neighborhood, Greene said.
Greene says she was among a new group of board members named in the past few months. “I came back and saw what a mess it was here,” she said.
The Cherry neighborhood, on the outskirts of uptown Charlotte, is a historically black neighborhood where subsidized housing is being replaced by large, costly homes. As families who had enrolled students moved away, the previous leaders failed to market to the new ones, Greene said.
At the end of this school year Community Charter School will lose the building it has leased from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which has put the property up for sale. Greene said CMS offered an extension but the Community board couldn’t afford needed renovations.
The Community charter is up for renewal in 2017, but the new board didn’t ask for a full 10 years. Instead, Greene said, the school sought a one-year extension, hoping to show enough improvement to win the state’s longer-term support.
“We really believe we have a good core group of people and we could turn it around in one year, this year,” Greene said.
The advisory board disagreed. But it voted to offer a yet-untested option that allows other charter schools to submit proposals to take over management of the school. That could prevent students and staff from being displaced. But given the fact that there won’t even be a building to step into, Greene said she’s not sure yet how that might work.
By Thursday afternoon, Greene said she was working to pull together a new board that can make a pitch to be chosen as the takeover team. “We’re going to keep our charter,” she said. “I am sure.”
Charter school advocates are watching the next steps, eager to see how the takeover option plays out if the Board of Education adopts the advisory board’s plan.
“It would be the first one ever,” said Eddie Goodall, a former state senator from Union County who is now a charter school consultant.
“I see it as sad in a sense that they would be closed,” Goodall said, but added that he is “energized” by the prospect of a new life for one of the state’s first charter schools.