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Chancellor Tisch visits a Bronx high school with charter hopes

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch visited a struggling Bronx high school today that is hoping to convert into a charter school in order to prevent the city from closing it.

A teacher at Christopher Columbus High School said that Tisch toured the school today, stopping into teachers’ classrooms and talking to principals at several of the schools that share the building. The teacher said that Tisch was there to discuss the school’s charter conversion aspirations.

Though city school officials have said that they have no intention of allowing the school to convert into a charter school, teachers took Tisch’s visit as a sign of hope that state officials haven’t ruled the plan out.

Tisch has personally campaigned for more charter high schools, calling on charter school networks to take a risk on older, more difficult students.

“It’s really time for charter schools to say to me, ‘I don’t want to just grow my own, I don’t want to operate in this zone where I am the darling,’” Tisch said at Hunter College in 2009. “I want them to dig in and say, ‘what can we do to help?’”

City Department of Education officials said today that Columbus should not be allowed to convert into a charter school — keeping its staff and students the same — because of its years of poor performance.

“Columbus has been low quality for too long and suddenly converting to a charter won’t help,” said a DOE official. “We have a strategy that works — replacing the school with new and different options — and that’s the strategy we’re going with.”

In order to convert into a charter school, Columbus needs more than half of parents to vote in favor of the transition. It also needs the city’s approval.

The former has already been achieved, though not without some controversy. The New York Post reported that Columbus teachers offered students extra credit on tests if their parents filled out ballots.

Mary Conway-Spiegel, who runs the Partnership for Student Advocacy — an organization that has campaigned against Columbus’s closure — said that roughly 54 percent of Columbus parents had voted for the conversion. Conway-Spiegel said that 652 parent ballots had been collected, 583 in favor of conversion and 69 against it.

Rather than allow Columbus to become a charter school, city officials plan to phase out the school by 2014 and open a new high school in the building next year.

It’s rare for schools to make the switch. During the eleven years New York State has been opening charter schools, nine district schools have converted to charter schools. Two of them gave up their charters and reverted to being district schools and one had its charter taken away. Today, six remain: five in New York City and one in Buffalo.

Tisch did not respond to a request for comment for about her visit. Columbus’s principal declined to comment.

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