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After shake-up, charter high school makes its case to stay open

After ousting their troubled leader and cleansing itself of a conflicted management organization, a charter high school community is hoping that it’s not too late to save their school.

In January, the Department of Education said it would close Williamsburg Charter High School after it failed to distance itself from its charter management network and Chief Executive Officer, both of whom are being investigated by the state attorney general’s office for financial improprieties.

At the time of the closure announcement, the DOE gave the school board 30 days to clean up its act. A lawyer hired to represent teachers and students from the school said today that those demands had been met on time.

On Feb. 2 — eight days before the deadline — the board finally terminated Eddie Calderon-Melendez, the CEO and founder of WCHS and the Believe Network, said the lawyer, Ellen Kimatian Eagan. She said that the school also severed ties with the Believe network and added new members to the board to comply with state charter guidelines.

Those conditions were placed on the school by the Department of Education last September when it originally placed WCHS on a one-year probation. But even then, the school’s board, which had included three people employed by the network, refused to comply.

“I feel that we’ve met every issue they’ve raised,” said Kimatian Eagan, who said Calderon-Melendez was terminated on Feb. 2. “We’ve made a lot of changes and we should remain open.”

About 75 students, teachers, and parents echoed their lawyer’s sentiments on the steps of Tweed this afternoon. They asked the DOE to reconsider its closure plan now that the school’s management has been shaken up.

“It has become increasingly clear that all levels of school operation warrant review and revaluation, and we as a faculty fully understand and support the need for change,” Kate Dalton, a teacher at the school, said in a speech.

One of the newly-elected, non-voting board members is Henry Gonzalez, who teaches “Participation in Government” at the school and helped organize the students to protest the closure.

“I know that there were some issues with management, but we’re in the middle of changing up a lot of that,” Gonzalez said.

WCHS has struggled academically in recent years as it has shuffled through three different principals. It earned two C’s and a D over the last three years on the city’s progress report and its graduation rate has fluctuated between 53 percent and 68 percent over that period.

But students at the protest were emotional in their pleas to keep the school open because of its close-knit community. Assama Ketegou, a New York University-bound senior, struggled to speak on the steps of Tweed as he spoke to classmates about his time at WCHS.

Nircely Batista, a senior who plans to attend City College, burst into tears when asked to describe what the school meant to her.

“I was a really lonely person before I came here. I literally didn’t have a single friend,” Batista said after the protest, surrounded by her classmates. “They helped me grow not only as a person, but as a student.”

A DOE spokesman said that the school’s fate was still undecided. A March 13 hearing with Kathleen Grimm, the Chancellor’s designee, will hear

“Kathleen’s findings are one piece of our overall decision to revoke or not,” said Matthew Mittenthal. “So, the determination to revoke is not yet final.”