clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Told their charter school will close, parents hunt for alternatives

Soon after Department of Education officials informed administrators at Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School Monday that the school would close in June, Lisa George’s phone started ringing.

As a co-president of Peninsula Prep’s parent-teacher organization and a member of its board of trustees, George knew parents would want help figuring out what will happen to their children.

The city says the general plan for Peninsula Prep’s 350 students is for them to return to their zoned elementary schools next year.

For George’s son, a third-grader, that means P.S. 215 — one of the 19 schools the city said this year had performed so poorly that they should be phased out.

School officials said they would help families zoned for P.S. 215 and several other neighborhood schools that received D’s on their city progress reports to find other options. But choices might be hard to come by: Almost all of the public schools in Far Rockaway post state test scores that are lower than Peninsula Prep’s — one reason that the school has a waiting list longer than its roster of enrolled students.

Far Rockaway’s bleak school landscape has people familiar with Peninsula Prep confused about how it landed on the chopping block.

Yes, the school’s math and reading test scores aren’t the best, they say. And they concede that the school has experienced some management challenges. But it has turned the corner, they say, and it was never even all that bad.

Peninsula Prep hasn’t dropped below a C on the city’s progress reports since its F in 2007, even when the state raised test standards and sent scores plummeting. For the last two years, its progress report score beat more than a third of elementary schools citywide. P.S. 215, in contrast, beat only 3 percent of schools.

Last year, Peninsula Prep’s math scores were even on par with the citywide average.

“If we were an F, if every school was performing better than we were, we would have to say it is what it is,” said Principal Ericka Wala, who took over in 2009. “But everyone comes in here every day giving 100 percent. It’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Wala said teachers and administrators had worked hard to do everything the state asked, revamping the curriculum, launching a data warehouse for analyzing students’ strengths and weaknesses, and introducing more test prep.

Aamir Raza, a consultant who has been working with Peninsula Prep on longstanding management and instructional weaknesses, said he was shocked by the closure decision.

“There is nothing in the school right now that would give a hint that anything is on the downward trajectory,” said Raza, a former official at the Department of Education’s charter school office who was on the team that granted Peninsula Prep a short-term charter renewal in 2009.

In the report recommending that Peninsula Prep not have its charter renewed, education officials acknowledged the efforts. But they said the strides did not compensate for the fact that the school simply hadn’t hit strict performance benchmarks set during the 2009 charter renewal. Those benchmarks included having three quarters of students score proficient on state tests and outperforming District 27 as a whole.

“Our students deserve high-quality schools, so we will continue to take action to ensure that our students have access to those options now and in the future,” said a top Department of Education deputy, Marc Sternberg, in a statement.

The city says it will open a new school to replace P.S. 215. It could also open a new school in a new building in the future using public construction funds that had been slated for Peninsula Prep, which currently rents space in a closed Catholic school.

Another option, city officials said, is that Peninsula Prep students could get priority for admission in area charter schools. One school, Challenge Preparatory Charter School, is already open, but it will only go up to third grade next year. And it already has a waiting list for admission.

Another possibility is that a different charter operator could try to take over Peninsula Prep, in a model pioneered last year by Democracy Prep’s takeover of Harlem Day Charter School. In that model, a struggling charter school’s board, staff, and name are changed, but the students can stay on.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Tuesday that the city hadn’t explored the takeover option for Peninsula Prep. But because the state’s 2010 charter school law removed the city’s ability to grant new charters, it would be up to the State Education Department or SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute to engineer such an arrangement.

For now, Peninsula Prep parents — who show up in the dozens for regular meetings — plan to grill education officials at a meeting Thursday night, George said.

And they will come up with backup plans to keep their children out of the very schools they opted out of when they applied to Peninsula Prep. George said she was investigating whether she could afford private school.

“I would have to work four jobs but I would do it,” she said. “I would homeschool before sending him to another school on the peninsula.”

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Sign up for the newsletter Chalkbeat New York

Sign up for our newsletter.