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After restructuring its charter school, UFT reassures families

The UFT Charter School is reassuring families that a new round of changes will turn the tide at the long-struggling school, which is on the hook to improve test scores by 2015 or shut down forever.

In a letter sent home to families today, the president of the union-run school’s board explains that it consolidated its elementary and middle school over the summer in an effort to boost student performance in the middle grades. The board president, Evelyn DeJesus, also said that the high school’s first cohort posted a 93 percent graduation rate.

State authorizers were on the fence about continuing to allow the school to operate when its charter came up for renewal earlier this year. Committee members said the school’s middle grades did not deserve to stay open, but they said that closing the middle school would have left a “donut hole” between the higher-performing elementary school grades and the relatively new high school grades, where achievement was less clear.

Ultimately, they decided that the union’s plan to move the middle grades into the space that its elementary grades occupied within a district school building showed enough promise to give the school a short-term extension. (The plan drew protests from the district school.) But if the school’s overall performance, which has been weakest by far in the middle grades, does not improve by 2015, it will close.

The letter to families does not mention the consequences of not showing improvement. But it does say that while test scores in the elementary school were average or better for the district this year, “our middle school grades, however, have been a source of constant concern.”

Michelle Bodden-White, the UFT official who has led the elementary grades since the school opened in 2005, will now supervise the middle school, too, while another school official is taking over in the high school, according to the letter. The letter suggests that middle school families are also likely to be happier now that their children will not share space with older teenagers.

For the union, ensuring that its charter school survives is a high-stakes endeavor. Former UFT President Randi Weingarten opened the school in 2005 to pierce the argument that charter schools succeed because union contracts hold other schools back. But seven years into its existence, the nation’s first union-run school was one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, and its position did not improve when the state released its first round of scores from tests aligned to new Common Core standards this summer.

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