Education

Kennedy Charter will close in June after 18 years in Charlotte

Kennedy Charter School will close in June, after moving into a new home on the Johnson C. Smith University campus.
Kennedy Charter School will close in June, after moving into a new home on the Johnson C. Smith University campus. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Kennedy Charter School announced Friday it will close in June, 18 years after opening as one of Charlotte’s first charter schools and a year after moving onto the Johnson C. Smith University campus.

School leaders have spent the last four months fighting for the school’s survival, saying they were blindsided by a December recommendation to stop state funding based on persistently low test scores.

The school, which once served only abused and neglected children living at Elon Homes for Children, now serves K-12 students from the Beatties Ford Road area of Charlotte. Only 19 percent of students passed state exams last year, earning an F on the state’s school grades.

School officials argued that students had met targets for individual growth in two of the past three years and said Kennedy needed more time to establish itself in the new setting. University President Ron Carter urged state officials to extend the charter, saying the school played a role in his vision of reviving the historically black West Charlotte corridor.

But state officials said it was a matter of setting high standards for schools that get public money and not allowing excuses for low-income students to keep failing. The N.C. Board of Education voted in February to let charters expire for Kennedy and Charlotte’s Crossroads Charter High, which would end public funding and likely force both schools to close.

Kennedy, which had fewer than 350 students this year, received about $3.6 million in public money in 2015, with another $1.5 million in support from donors and Elon Homes and Schools for Children, the nonprofit children’s service agency that sponsors Kennedy.

Crossroads, which was cited for academic, financial and management weaknesses, had 163 students and received about $2 million in public money.

Crossroads sued to stay open. Leaders could not be reached Friday for an update.

After going before a review panel and failing to get the charter extended, Kennedy’s board said earlier this month it would also sue the state. School Superintendent Fred Grosse said Friday that remains a possibility. But with the school lacking a charter as enrollment and hiring for 2016-17 take place, he said the school had to close.

Elon Homes will continue to offer summer school at JCSU, offer college scholarships to all current Kennedy students and provide foster care and behavioral health services to youth throughout the community.

Grosse said Elon and JCSU will continue to work together on ways to serve children and families in west Charlotte. “Together, we have several very exciting opportunities to continue to investigate, and expect to open new ventures here in 2017,” he said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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