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Williamsburg Charter plans admissions lottery in face of closure

More than 200 students have applied to enter a charter school that could very well be closed next fall.

The director of development at Williamsburg Charter High School, Joseph Cardarelli, said today that the school had received 225 applications for ninth grade and 25 transfer applications. Applications continue to trickle in even though officials haven’t done much recruiting since January, when the city announced that it would close the school, he said.

The school had planned to hold its admissions lottery earlier this month, but the city rejected the school’s appeal to stay open a day earlier and the lottery was put on hold. The following week, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman indicted the school’s founding CEO on tax fraud and larceny charges relating to the school’s management.

But a judge late Friday issued a temporary restraining order halting the closure. According to SchoolBook, the school’s lawyer is emphasizing that the state pinned improprieties on the former CEO, Eddie Calderon-Melendez, not the school. The school terminated its relationship with Calderon-Melendez under pressure this winter.

Now, the school has rescheduled its admissions lottery for April 30, a week before the school and city are due in court to argue about whether the school should be allowed to remain open.

The lottery is likely to be more successful at proving demand than at filling the school’s ninth grade class. The school has enrolled more than 225 ninth-graders a year, and the school’s uncertain future is likely to depress the yield of students accepting spots. Plus, the stakes are low for eighth-graders who are admitted because most of them have already been offered seats in other high schools through the city’s normal admissions process.

If it remains open, enrolling too few students could put Williamsburg Charter in jeopardy again because it might not take in enough funds to continue operations, a problem in the past for the school.

But school leaders say the demand is there, if only the city would allow Williamsburg Charter to remain in operation. Cardarelli said counselors had offered to assist students who wanted to transfer out after the city’s closure announcement but had found few takers.

“Again, not many students have left or are considering leaving which is testament to the fact that our parents, students, and whole community believes in our school,” Cardarelli said today.

If the school says open, some additional students might come from Believe Southside Charter School, which was part of the network before the network was disbanded. The state is revoking that school’s charter because of the management problems, although it is allowing a third school to remain open.

According to the city’s closure plans, now on hold, Williamsburg Charter’s roughly 900 remaining students would disperse among other city high schools this fall. City officials have said they would offer the students spots in schools that still have seats open after the regular admissions process — meaning that they are likely to wind up in schools with significant challenges.

In a press release, Williamsburg Charter noted that it had posted stronger student performance data and attendance rates than the six high schools pulled from the list of schools that the city is trying to “turn around.” But those six schools, which the Department of Education said were improving so much that they did not require aggressive intervention, all earned A’s or B’s on their most recent city progress reports. Williamsburg Charter’s most recent grade was C.

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