MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now as some students gear up to return to sparkling new schools on Monday, other students are wondering where they're going to be when the morning bell rings. The D.C. Charter School system recently closed several schools and more than 700 students and their parents have been scrambling to find new placements. Charter school advocates defend the decision to close ineffective schools. They say it's the Charter's tough love approach that makes their test scores outshine those of traditional public schools.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The parents say in the short term these decisions often leave them and their children hanging. Education reporter Kavitha Cardoza has the story.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Lena Burrell is chopping chicken and vegetables for dinner. She's the primary caregiver for her nine-year-old grandson Chuluki a (sp?) who is a picky eater. He doesn't like any change in his routine.
MS. LENA BURRELL
Mondays are an oatmeal day, Tuesdays are a Cream of Wheat day, Wednesdays are pancake day, Thursdays is cold cereal day. We eat oatmeal again on Fridays. If it gets changed, he'll say, what happened?
Burrell says Chuluki is loving and talented, but he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and Burrell says that can be challenging.
If anything is out of place, he will get frustrated. He gets very angry. He may throw things. He will have a meltdown.
Chuluki attended School for Arts and Learning or SAIL Public Charter School. Burrell says he loved it and his teachers understood his needs. She had no idea the school was closing down until she got a robo-call in June.
It was like a rush, rush, rush thing, which is very difficult, very difficult for parents who have children with challenges.
Burrell says it was almost impossible to get information from the school.
Lost is probably the best way -- where do we go from here? What do we do?
SAIL had financial problems for several years. It didn't have money to even complete the 2010/2011 school year until the Charter School Board and the city stepped in with funds. Darren Woodruff is a D.C. Public Charter School Board member.
MR. DARREN WOODRUFF
School closure is really the end of a process. We don't, as a board, just wake up in the morning and decide, oh, we don't like school X.
Sometimes, the school asks to close or is shut down because of decreasing enrollment or poor academic results. But Woodruff says most of the time, the reason is financial and he stresses the percentage that close is small compared to the total number of charter schools in the city. But what happens to those students? In May 2009, the Charter School Board voted to close down a residential school for pregnant and parenting teenagers in Northeast D.C. The school had no curriculum. Truancy was a chronic problem and special education students were not being properly served.
I had attended one of the school closure votes and it was MEI Futures Academy. A year later, I was doing a series on pregnant teens and I was trying to contact some of these students and not a single person knew where they were and this was a group, an at-risk group for dropping out in the first place.
Yeah, that is a particularly tough population. A lot of those students were living in the facility so as a result, you didn't have the traditional parent of the student that you could go to where they lived in a home so I think, in that case, unfortunately a lot of the students disappeared.
But Woodruff calls MEI an anomaly.
William E. Doar recently relinquished its charter for its high school. Of their 128 students, 50 percent have already been placed. Thea Bowman is another one. Of their 77 students, 53 percent have placement. SAIL at 229 students, 128 of those have already been placed so that's over 50 percent.
When you say about 50 percent have found placements, I'm thinking we're ten days before the new school year and 50 percent of the children haven't found placements.
It depends on how you look at it.
Whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, it's clear a charter school closing has implications not just for families, but also for the wider D.C. school system. Nathaniel Beers heads special education for D.C.'s traditional public schools. He's been working closely with parents from SAIL because approximately 60 percent of the students there have special needs. Beers says they have to go through each child's data to figure out individual needs. Then they need to make sure there are staff available, regular teachers as well as specialists who provide speech therapy, physical therapy and behavioral support. And Beers says the hardest part is the financial piece.
MR. NATHANIEL BEERS
The way that schools are budgeted for is based on what your enrollment is the previous year and what changes we saw coming when we find out in June that a charter school is closing that wasn't part of our production.
The difference in cost for each of these students can be significant.
If you take the base student formula of about $8,000 for a special education student, depending on how much special education they need, that can go up to as high as about $35,000.
Charter School board member Woodruff says the Board's responsibility is to approve high-quality charter schools and close poorly-performing ones. He doesn’t see the closings as a failure of the Charter School Board. He says it's a failing of the individual schools. Woodruff says the Board hosts an enrollment fair and public meetings and has five staff members working with these families. He does say, though, that the Board will have a new system in place for this academic year.
If there are any schools that are red-flagged for possible revocation, we will make that determination by January so that gives you the entire remainder of the second semester through May and June to work with parents on finding other options.
The board says school closings will become less frequent as it attracts better charters and existing ones improve. D.C.P.S. says it's working to regain the trust of returning parents, but those are long-term plans. Many families are looking only as far as the first day of school. Lena Burrell prays that nine-year-old Chuluki will bond with his teacher, that she'll be patient with him and that other children will be kind.
A leap of faith totally, completely, that's what keeps me going.
She'll know soon enough whether her faith will be rewarded. Her grandson will start his first day at Barnard Elementary School in Northwest D.C. on Monday. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
After the break, we head to Maryland's Dinosaur Alley.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER 1
That's what I want to find, something that looks like that. Let me see it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER 1
What is that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER 2
That's probably some kind of Mako.
That and more coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5
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