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Regents approve contested charter renewals as city promises a new oversight process

Laura Feijoo, a senior superintendent in the department’s Office of School Support, presents to the Board of Regents.
Laura Feijoo, a senior superintendent in the department’s Office of School Support, presents to the Board of Regents.
Geoff Decker

Updated, 4:10 p.m. — Thirteen city charter schools are poised to see their charters renewed, one month after state officials rejected some of their applications and put new pressure on the city to crack down on struggling charter schools.

The Regents committee’s decision to approve the renewals on Monday settled a high-profile disagreement between city and state officials and ensures that the schools will remain open. But three of the lowest performing schools only earned 18-month renewals, and city officials said the schools would have to engineer rapid turnarounds or face closure in 2016.

“We expect dramatic increases in the schools’ academic performance, and if we do not see these increases, we will certainly not recommend renewal at a future session,” said Laura Feijoo, a senior superintendent in the department’s Office of School Support.

In December, the Regents said the city’s reports about seven of the schools had raised too many red flags to warrant approval. On Monday, Feijoo defended the city’s decision to renew the charters, saying that the schools had shown signs of improvement, parents like the schools, and that officials had considered students’ other options when making a decision.

The city had also made some concessions to the state’s concerns since December, reducing the length of the recommended renewal for Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School from two-and-a-half years to just 18 months, for example. Lefferts Gardens Charter School also had its renewal shortened over the last few weeks.

“Of course we are disappointed with the change,” school leader Michael Windram said.

The meeting settled the Regents’ disagreements with the city, but the three 18-month renewals lacked the support of a high-profile member: Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Tisch said it would be inconsistent to approve them when the Board of Regents did not renew the charter of a Buffalo charter school that had fallen short of its goals in 2013. After the meeting, Tisch added that she doubted that the schools could improve significantly in just a year and a half, though she praised the city’s updated applications.

“I believe that you do people a disservice by leading them on and so I worry that we’ll be in the same place next year,” she said. “I do not want to be in the business of supporting failing charter schools.”

According to a letter sent by Chancellor Carmen Fariña to the state education department, the three schools with 18-month renewals —Izquierdo, Lefferts Gardens, and Imagine Me charter schools — will need to post state test scores that exceed district and city averages in both English and math this year.

That would be no easy feat for a school like Izquierdo, whose middle-school students’ English and math proficiency rates were more than 15 percentage points below the city averages in 2014.

“I’m a realist,” Principal Richard Burke said. “We have to perform and I believe we can do it.”

Meanwhile, city officials appear ready to revamp the oversight process for the 70 charter schools the city regulates.

In a presentation, Feijoo said the city had developed a new framework for reviewing charter schools that would go into effect next year. The new process would emphasize school discipline policies, board operations, and trends in student enrollment and retention in addition to the typical review of academic data like test scores and graduation rates.

Only two charter schools that have come up for renewal recently remain in uncertain territory: Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School, whose founder has refused to sign a renewal report, and Staten Island Community Charter School, which was among the schools up for renewal in December but was not brought up on Monday.

Here’s the full list of schools earning renewals and their length:

  • Imagine Me Leadership Charter School, 1.5 years
  • Lefferts Gardens Charter School, 1.5 years
  • Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School, 1.5 years
  • Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School, 2.5 years
  • Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School, 3.5 years
  • Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School, 3.5 years
  • Hyde Leadership Charter School – Brooklyn, 3.5 years
  • Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation, 3.5 years
  • Bushwick Ascend Charter School, 3.5 years
  • Riverton Street Charter School, 4.5 years (a full term)
  • Hellenic Classical Charter School, 4.5 years (a full term)
  • Democracy Prep Harlem Charter School, 4.5 years (a full term)
  • Challenge Preparatory Charter School, 4.5 years (a full term)

Brian Charles contributed reporting.

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